ASIR BAGWELL, 8, blinked once, then twice, then so many times that I stopped listening to the adults in the room.
The boy with the almond-shape eyes was trying with all his might to blink back tears as his grandmother talked about his father, gunned down when Asir was just 1.
He pulled the sleeves of his green jersey over his hands, and when he couldn't hold them back anymore, he quietly and quickly soaked up the tears running down his face.
President Obama's tears during his gun-control speech Jan. 5 got a lot of attention. Here in Philadelphia, neighborhoods have been drowning in tears for a long time.
"I dream of him sometimes," Asir Bagwell was saying about his dad. "I dream he's watching me play football."
Asir's father, Andrew, was shot in 2009 as he sat in his car in Wissinoming. Police called it an ambush. A friend drove him to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No one was arrested. He was 22.
Asir's pronouncement the other night punched a hole in the hearts of the adults sitting in the back room of the Mamie Nichols Center at 22d and Tasker streets in Point Breeze.
They were there to talk about an antiviolence public-service announcement about the impact of gun violence on children throughout South Philly.
As painful as it was to see a little boy cry for a father he barely knew, it's what Anton Moore and Matthew Orsini wanted when they made the PSA.
It features Diedra Counts, whose son Montrell Freeman, 19, was gunned down in 2014. Her last words to him: "Be careful. I love you." But it mostly highlights children, including Asir and Nahlayah Hinson, 7, talking about fathers they didn't know and would never know.
In the PSA, the children ask: "Don't we matter? Please just put the guns down."
What do you say to a little boy left to dream of his dead father instead of what he wants to be when he grows up?
What do you say to a little girl who wants nothing more than for her father to walk her to school?
Moore admits that part of him wanted to be anywhere but in that room when Asir cried. But a bigger part of him wanted to put Asir and Nahlayah in front of everyone who ever picked up a gun to settle a fight or a slight, in neighborhoods plagued by loss.
Neighborhoods where people have trouble tallying up the number of people they know who were killed by guns.
Neighborhoods where mothers routinely bury sons, and where grandmothers are left to care for the children left behind.
Neighborhoods where living past adolescence is celebrated.Consider the young black man, maybe 20, whom I overheard talking on his phone on the train not long ago: "Happy Birthday, bro. Not too many people make it to see 30."
Of course, this isn't new or even news anymore. You know what else isn't new, but should be news?
These neighborhoods, long abandoned and ignored, aren't necessarily waiting for a savior - even a newly elected mayor who campaigned on the idea that every neighborhood matters. Though I am going to hold Mayor Kenney to that.
"We can't expect someone to come to our community and solve our problems," said Moore, founder of Unity in the Community, a South Philly neighborhood group. "I think we can solve it ourselves. I think we have to."
And that narrative, that people in cities like Philadelphia aren't as outraged by killings of black men by black men as they are about killings of black men by white police officers, isn't exactly right, either - even if I've written that I wish I heard more outrage about local violence.
The underreported reality on the streets of Philadelphia is people like Moore, trying anything and everything to bring the neighborhood he lives in back from the brink.
Children at Julia de Burgos Elementary School, on Lehigh Avenue near Fourth Street in Fairhill, taking to the streets two years in a row to march against violence.
Activists holding summer peace marches throughout Philly's neighborhoods.
Scared and fed-up and determined residents gathering in cramped church basements and community-center back rooms all over the city, trying to do their part to improve their neighborhoods.
In his gun speech, President Obama cried when talking about the first graders who lost their lives at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school in 2012.
"Every time I think about those kids, it gets me mad," he said. "And by the way, it happens on the streets of Chicago every day."
It happens on the streets of Philadelphia every day, too.
Every time I think of kids like Asir and Nahlayah, it gets me mad. And by the way, this country doesn't shed nearly enough tears over children like them.
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel
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