It’s Sixers Sunday today and they’ve got a chance to take total control over their playoff series against Toronto. In this week’s Q&A, we talk with columnist Helen Ubiñas about the serious subject of gun violence in Philadelphia — particularly the story of Luis Berrios, who after six months in the hospital is on a mission of forgiveness.
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Each week we go behind the scenes with one of our reporters or editors to discuss their work and the challenges they face along the way. This week we chat with Helen Ubiñas, whose gripping columns expose the ongoing gun crisis in Philadelphia and how its survivors, who often go overlooked after the media spotlight disappears, struggle to adjust to life after recovery. One of her recent columns follows Luis Berrios, a gun shot victim on a quest to express forgiveness for his shooters.
How did you first hear about Luis Berrios and his story?
Someone I had previously written about knew Luis, and thought we should meet. That's often how I get columns: one person leads me to another person and another column.
You’ve reported on victims of gun violence over the course of your work in Philadelphia, how does Luis’ story underline the urgency in addressing ongoing violence in our city?
When we talk about violence in the city, we often talk about it in terms of life and death. "A 22-year-old man was shot and killed. Four people were shot and injured." But much of the reality lies in what happens in the cracks, often in the aftermath. Many people live, but their lives are forever altered. Luis is an example of that. For many people who saw the initial stories about his shooting, there is little understanding of the lingering affects of his injuries, and the physical and emotional toll. Being able to write about Luis, as he struggled to recover from his hospital bed and as he walked around his neighborhood trying to share his message of forgiveness, is part of this city's urgent story of gun violence.
What are some difficulties you encounter when trying to tell stories framed around gun violence and the victims it claims?
There are many, but perhaps the biggest one is trying to find new ways to tell the story to make readers stop and care and even more important, stand up and want to do something. So, that means sitting at the hospital bedside of a gun violence victim as he struggles to recover and in the homes of (mostly) mothers as they grieve for generations of gunshot victims. It means staking out a cemetery in hopes of finding the mother who visits her son’s gravesite every day to share coffee, without being seen so I don’t taint the scene...But it also means holding the city accountable when it spends years and millions on anti-violence programs they never evaluate and calling Philadelphians to the Art Museum steps every year with little more than my column and my own social media accounts when I started and the faith that people would come.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from Luis’ message of forgiveness?
It’s not just about Luis...it’s really about the strength and grace of so many victims and survivors of gun violence in this city. That’s something else many people don’t truly appreciate - how many Philadelphians have taken the worst thing to happen to them and turned it into a passion to try and make life better for others, to be better and do better. At the very least, we as journalists, as storytellers, should bear witness to that kind of courage.
Head down to Bella Vista and when you find the blue horse, you might discover a beautiful story like @amyjani did! Thanks for sharing this encounter with us. Tag your Instagram posts or tweets with #OurPhilly and we’ll pick our favorite each day to feature in this newsletter and give you a shout out!
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The answer: To put it simply, they’re actually two different stops on two different subway lines.
What a surprise the city will need the dump more tax payer money into it! As city employees will reap the extra benefits far beyond the extra money in their pay checks from another city failure. As the millions extra will land up in bigger pension payouts. Because the #Philly way is the corrupt way only. As they selected vendors that paid the highest donations to put a system in that at the end not only benefited the unions but failed the taxpayers as a result. — Itoldyouwhy, on Philly’s new payroll system is sending out thousands of inaccurate paychecks and no one knowing why.