The father had three choices. Give up, give in to his anger, or do something to honor his son, gunned down at his older sister’s doorstep on a September morning.
Stanley Crawford put out a call to fellow black men. And they came.
Though many had done what other successful black men of their generation had — fled their troubled neighborhoods as soon as they could — here they were, trying to find a way back into their communities to help.
For months they met and talked about what they could do, what they should do. They had lots of ideas, to offer security to children on their walks to school, to women and the elderly at nearby shopping corridors.
But first, they picked up brooms.
Disorder leads to despair, and so, six days a week for the last three months, they’ve been cleaning up a handful of pockets in the Nicetown neighborhood of North Philadelphia, including 19th and Susquehanna Avenue, where I recently caught up to them. (To volunteer, www.bmccphilly.com.)
Their motto: Consistent Consistency.
They call themselves the Black Male Community Council of Philadelphia, though most people in the neighborhoods just call them “the guys in the T-shirts and hats.”
That suits them just fine, this rotating group of about 60 mostly retired or semi-retired guys.
“Thank God for a job,” said one, a 40-year sanitation worker.
In addition to him, there’s Ron Hall, the 70-year-old union carpenter.
And the homicide detective, who is giving a whole new meaning to “cleaning up the streets.”
There’s Eric Walker, the 53-year-old Army vet who bet his chances of survival were better by signing up for faraway wars than staying in the one ravaging his North Philadelphia neighborhood.
It was a safe bet. Life expectancy for men is lowest in Nicetown-Tioga, at 63.9 years.
By the time Walker was 10, Walker already had seen multiple people get shot, including a boy not much older than he was, whose blood he watched run into the storm drain. Walker was just 9 when his brother was shot and killed.
On a recent Monday morning, about eight of them waited inside a storefront on Susquehanna while another went to get the cleaning supplies bought with a community grant from the Office of Violence Prevention.
Their reasons for being there varied, but tallied, they came to this: restitution for having saved themselves, and for a few, including the 41-year-old “retired street pharmacist,” for losing themselves — or their children — to the streets.
Nearly a year after his son William’s murder, Crawford sometimes still can’t look at the photos of the 35-year-old who chose the influence of the streets over the example of his father, a 28-year fire inspector for the city.
The father used to worry. He’d look at the headlines of the shootings and murders in the city in which he chose to raise his family and shake his head.
But it wasn’t until the headline was about his own son — “Man killed in Rhawnhurst shooting” — that he realized something:
“People see the headlines about all these shootings, 1 killed, 10 killed, 22 killed, and they don’t think about the ripple effect. So many more people are affected than the number they see.”
Parents, siblings, children.
Grandchildren like Crawford’s granddaughter Samira Crawford.
At 17, she’s already lost three men in her life to violence, including her father, killed on Sept. 8, 2018.
“That’s three important men in her life, gone,” Crawford said.
“That does something to a child.”
It does something to a community, too. Consider, for instance, the lingering trauma to the neighborhood just a couple of miles from where the men worked, when a few days later a standoff left six police officers shot. Across the street, the Precious Babies day care, where staffers huddled with the children in a stairwell to protect them from stray bullets.
“It was a scenario they had trained for,” they told my colleague Aubrey Whelan.
Let that sink in.
The men are convinced: The chaos, the shootings, the murders are all a manifestation of long-unnamed and untreated trauma.
“They are scared,” the Army vet said. Just like he was when he looked around at 19 and ran.
But not everyone gets out, and now it’s time for those who did to come back in whatever way they can.
“Did we fail the younger generation?” Kofi Asante, another volunteer, asked — and then answered.
“Yes, we did. We bought into the idea that being successful meant moving out of the community. We bought into leaving.”
And now, they’re betting on coming back.