Around this time last year, we were preparing to #FillTheSteps Against Gun Violence at the Art Museum.
Despite flash flood warnings, a sizable crowd showed up to raise awareness. But also, they came to connect with other allies and advocates.
In February, I shared that the members of the paralyzed gunshot survivor’s group, which sprang from last year’s event, had agreed to lead the 2020 gathering.
And then came the coronavirus.
We can’t safely convene for what would have been the fifth year that Philadelphians affected by gun violence have met on those iconic steps.
But I have an idea.
The coronavirus may have stopped school shootings, but it hasn’t stopped the bloodshed in many vulnerable neighborhoods that are also being disproportionately affected by the virus.
The world’s collective attention may now be on an invisible enemy, but in too many cities like Philadelphia, the very visible threat of gun violence has mostly gone overlooked.
It may be hard to remain hopeful, locked up in our homes right now. But consider how hopeless it must feel for those who have been forced to shelter themselves against an epidemic in their own neighborhoods without any hope of a meaningful national response.
In a three-hour span on Mother’s Day, five people in Philadelphia were shot.
Last month, I shared the story of how gun violence stole one Philadelphia mother’s children and the coronavirus robbed her of her final goodbye.
So, on June 5, let’s come together, if just virtually, to focus on an epidemic to which none are immune.
I don’t want to put too many rules or expectations on this effort — we’re all in very different places in our corona journey — but here’s what I hope.
I hope to enlist “ambassadors” in every state to start the online effort — on whatever social media platform they choose — by encouraging others to #FillTheFeeds Against Gun Violence with stories of what this epidemic has robbed them of:
Their sense of safety, their loved ones, the use of their legs — but also the activism and advocacy fueled by these losses.
#FillTheFeeds with your story, or the story of your city or neighborhood, in words, in pictures, in videos, and vow to share and amplify these stories with that hashtag throughout the day.
So far we have people in Philadelphia and New Jersey and Delaware, including members of local and national advocacy groups, on board to participate. But how great would it be if every state joined the effort?
Picture it, from Alabama #FilltheFeeds Against Gun Violence to Wyoming #FillTheFeeds Against Gun Violence — a nationwide commitment against gun violence with the same kind of vigor and compassion as we have for those affected with coronavirus.
You might wonder why I don’t just chalk this up to a lost year on the steps. Simple: We don’t have the luxury of waiting it out until it’s safe. It hasn’t been safe in a lot of our neighborhoods for a very long time.
I hope, even if we’re physically separated right now, that we can build on the momentum that’s so palpable on those steps every year.
It is on those steps where I have watched in awe as mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers turn their pain into power.
It is on those steps where I’ve watched young people from across the city, especially students from Parkway Center City Middle School, lift their voices to proclaim that their lives matter.
It is on those steps that Jalil Frazier, a young father who was shot and paralyzed in 2018, hatched the idea for a survivors group that in a couple of months will celebrate its one-year anniversary.