State Rep. Ronald G. Waters yesterday announced an anti-violence initiative that's aimed at convincing some of the city's misguided young souls to think twice before taking a swing or squeezing a trigger.
The "Squash It" campaign will focus on ending the petty arguments and street feuds that have caused so many of the city's homicides and shootings in recent years, Waters said.
So what makes this campaign different from many of the other well-intentioned antiviolence projects that already exist around the city?
For one thing, the people at the heart of the movement are local rappers and inmates at Graterford Prison, some of whom are serving life sentences.
"They are two different groups of people who can have great impact on young people's lives," Waters said.
"The rappers don't want children to take their lyrics the wrong way. The men at Graterford know what the real consequences of crime are, so they want to share their experiences with other people."
Both groups will have a chance to get their message across next Thursday when the campaign kicks off with a two-hour live broadcast from Graterford that will be aired on Power 99 FM.
The inmates, who have their own organization called the United Community Action Network (UCAN), participated in a massive community discussion at Community College of Philadelphia last January.
More than 2,000 people went to the college to hear from the prisoners, who talked with attendees at the college live via satellite.
There was something real and powerful about the exchange, said Nathaniel Lee, a UCAN chairman who spent 17 years at Graterford on robbery and assault charges.
Lee said he spent much of his time in prison studying and trying to find a better path for himself.
He was released in December, and now works as a legislative assistant for Waters.
He believes the prisoners and rappers can relate and speak to teens and young adults in this city in a way that many others can't.
"So much of the crime and violence in this city comes from a certain street culture that a lot of people don't understand," said Lee, 43.
"In that culture, going to prison can be like a rite of passage. There's a hostility to outsiders, like parents, police and teachers, when they try to help.
"The men of UCAN...have the credibility of having been there," Lee said.
"They try to use that and persuade young people not to follow in their footsteps."
Waters hopes that the campaign will plant seeds of change in the minds of some of the city's disaffected youths.
"If it makes some children think more of going to school than using their hands, we've got to give it a try," he said. *