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As homicides in Philly approach a grim milestone, here are 5 steps to address gun violence | Solomon Jones

The recommendations are based on conversations with young Black men. They spoke of fixing education, addressing unemployment — and of pain and the need to survive, writes Solomon Jones.

An investigator with the Philadelphia Police Department's crime scene unit gathers evidence after a fatal shooting in January.
An investigator with the Philadelphia Police Department's crime scene unit gathers evidence after a fatal shooting in January.Read moreTOM GRALISH / Staff Photographer

Perhaps, under different circumstances, I would celebrate the fact that ManUpPHL, the nonprofit I began, has completed a study that puts forth five core solutions drawn from young men who’ve been touched by gun violence. But as Philadelphia approaches 500 murders in a single year, I must mourn.

When someone in my city can repeatedly shoot a pregnant woman in the head and stomach, killing both mother and child, we need solutions, and we need them now. The only way to get them is to understand the problem fully, and we can’t do that unless we talk to young Black men. Gun violence victims in Philadelphia are 88% male and 85% Black. Any conversation meant to stem the tide of gun violence in our city must include the voices of these young men. Not only to save their lives, but also to save our own.

» READ MORE: Black men in Philadelphia can reduce gun violence, if we work together | Solomon Jones

That’s why we started ManUpPHL — to steer young Black men away from gun violence. Through our Listening to the Streets initiative, which offers mentoring, job opportunities, and stipends to participants, we embarked upon hours of conversation with young men who’ve been shot, faced gun charges, or lived in communities where gunfire is a regular occurrence. Written by ManUpPHL board chairman Brian Ellis, the resultant study is called, “Exploring the Lived Experiences of Black Males in Philadelphia Around Gun Violence and the Behaviors/Activities That Encourage Gun Culture.”

When we asked the men why gun violence persists, they talked about schools that don’t prepare them for living-wage jobs. They spoke of families split by mass incarceration. They bemoaned a lack of economic opportunity. And they spoke of a culture driven by social media arguments and punctuated by so-called “drill music” — a murderous hip-hop soundtrack that celebrates and documents homicides. More than anything, though, they spoke of pain and the need to survive.

“Losing my cousins, family members. Literally seeing their heads open. That changed me.” That’s what a 26-year-old participant from North Philly told us when we asked him how gun violence had affected him. “I seen a whole lot of stuff, seems like. That made me be the way I am. It was, like, ‘It ain’t going to be me.’”

Another 26-year-old participant from Frankford spoke of being shot by a friend on the same block where his father had been shot more than two decades before. The generational nature of the violence isn’t something that can be solved overnight, but when we asked the young men for solutions, they spoke of innovative approaches, and we listened.

» READ MORE: It’s time to support the Black men in Philadelphia being destroyed by gun violence | Solomon Jones

Based on their input, ManUpPHL made five central recommendations, and we are calling on different segments of our community to help carry them out.

  1. First, we call on local universities to partner with neighborhood schools, creating a new educational pipeline for students who are threatened by gun violence.

  2. Second, we call on the prison system to use incarcerated leaders to fight gun violence from inside the prison walls.

  3. Third, we call on medical schools to bring mental health substations to our communities.

  4. Fourth, we call on corporations to create jobs for returning citizens, and government to give them tax credits for doing so.

  5. Fifth, we call on our sports industry to fund community members to work as resource connectors to steer young people to proven and effective help.

That last recommendation was drawn from the words of a 21-year-old participant from South Philadelphia who was facing gun charges when we spoke to him. He spoke passionately about the need to make real connections with those involved in gun violence.

“You can’t just go build a bond with somebody who got a gun on the streets. You got to already have that bond with them, he got to already be close with you, because it’s hard to open up to people in the streets. It’s hard to communicate. People in the streets got harder communication skills … You just got to know somebody in that community already trying to make a change.”

If we are going to solve gun violence in Philadelphia, we need to listen. ManUpPHL has helped start that process. Now it’s time to act.