Just a few weeks ago, my dad was on the porch when a random man pulled up on our block in my Philly neighborhood and started shooting. There were kids playing on the street, neighbors trimming their hedges, when suddenly bullets went flying in every direction, because this particular shooter had bad aim. My father ran back in the house after the first shot was fired in an attempt to take cover. I was at a friend’s house when this went down. When I came home, my dad told me what had happened. After sharing all the details, he kind of shook it off as if it wasn’t a big deal. But in reality, my dad’s just minding his business on his own property could have cost him his life.
I started to ponder why we tend to shake these things off and view them as just part of our everyday lives. The crime rate in Philadelphia has surged since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, the homicide toll reached 300, the highest point in the last 13 years.
Growing up in Southwest Philadelphia, gun violence has always been a norm to me. In fact, I have never really been able to picture a life without it. I am used to hearing police run through my alleyway hours after being called. I am used to the sound of gunshots, to being able to differentiate them from fireworks. I am used to my parents not sending me to the corner store, because, as we say in Jamaica, where my parents emigrated from, “prevention is better than cure.” I’ve lost many loved ones due to the social “norm” in Philadelphia.
Other neighborhoods in the Philadelphia area are not as directly affected by gun violence as mine. My neighbors, peers, and classmates who live in diverse and lower-income areas of the city don’t deserve this way of life. The kids growing up down the street from me don’t deserve this. The young adults attending local universities don’t deserve this. The elderly who want to see their grandchildren grow don’t deserve this.
I don’t deserve this either.
“I am used to the sound of gunshots, to being able to differentiate them from fireworks.”
Violence should not be considered a norm anywhere, especially not the City of Brotherly Love.
Here are three ways that I want to see city leaders and community members start tackling this issue of gun violence in our city. It’s all about breaking the cycle:
Fund more extracurricular activities for Philadelphia’s youth. In Philadelphia, guns are more accessible than education. In many cases, young people just don’t have the financial or emotional support they need to set themselves up for success, especially in the arts. The lack of funding and good leadership prevents many existing nonprofits and extracurriculars from being sufficient. COVID-19 has only made this worse with programs, like the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, facing huge cuts.
Gather stakeholders, including community members, city leaders, and people who want to donate time and money to end violence, for open discussions to understand the issues. There needs to be a personal connection between the elected officials who make significant decisions and the people directly affected.
Meet people where they are: social media and protests, the two key ways that young people have used to spread their message and push for change. Executives and business owners need to help push the movement via social media, and connect with the younger generation by demonstrating on the front lines beside them just how much they desire change as well.
In my community, violence is sometimes perceived as the only option. It is my mission to open the minds of the people, by creating opportunities that have been stripped from them and by reviving their visions and dreams.
I want kids to be able to play on their porch without having to worry about getting caught in a crossfire. I want public transportation to be safer for students on their way to and from these newly funded extracurriculars and school activities. I want Black-owned businesses here and everywhere to thrive and become pillars of communities (which is why my friend An and I made a list of Black-owned businesses, in the United States and globally, to support).
I want to see money going to programs that educate and positively influence people, not into the hands of the police departments that apply more unnecessary pressure and tension within our communities, my community. I want everyone to feel safe and cared for in a city whose name means love.
Abigail Chang is a senior at the City School. Her interests include basketball, anime, volleyball, science, reading and writing, and social activism. Last week, she participated in Mighty Writers’ Anti-Violence Forum, available at: https://www.facebook.com/MightyWriters/