In neighborhoods like Strawberry Mansion, where so many young men end up killed or incarcerated, Eric Skelton is an old-head at 43.
He messed up but moved on, and he did not abandon the neighborhood.
Three years ago, Skelton and a handful of guys he'd known since kindergarten founded Few Good Men - an unfunded, informal coalition determined to repair the streets where they once raised havoc.
"I don't want it on my conscience that I destroyed this neighborhood," Skelton says. "I've got to come back and fix what I messed up."
Now numbering 50 strong, Few Good Men strives to guide the young and comfort the aged. Yesterday, the group staged its third annual Father's Day community cookout at 31st and Huntingdon Streets.
The event stopped traffic on 31st and Napa Streets. Preschoolers worked off their seemingly endless energy in a moon bounce. Grade-schoolers took turns trying to douse the old-heads in a dunk tank. A passel of 13- and 14-year-old girls called Pretty and Paid prepared a hip-hop dance performance, and old-style disc jockeys with vinyl records kept the music going between performances by the Illusions, a local tribute band specializing in the Philly sound.
Hot dogs and hamburgers filled the grills at lunch, and at dinner, offerings included lamb chops, shish kebob, chicken, and specialty sides - cabbage salad, baked beans, green beans, baked macaroni and cheese - made by the women behind these good men.
Every young man on a street corner is someone's son or nephew, Skelton points out. Every infirm adult aging at home is somebody's grandmother, aunt, or uncle. All are his obligation.
His is a bio repeated up and down these streets: sold drugs, did time, served parole. But he also made a comeback: finished school, married, and raised children. He is in the maintenance department of WHYY TV12, with a reputation as a solid worker and a good father.
At a time when, according to city records, 72 percent of Philadelphia prison inmates are black men, and, according to state records, 68 percent of men on probation or parole in Pennsylvania are black, Skelton knows young people don't take to preaching.
"So I listen to them, and I show them by example."
Members of the Few Good Men wear dog tags symbolizing their commitment to their cause and to one another. Inscribed are the name of the group and the words love, trust, loyalty.
George Wynn, 36, who still lives on Napa Street and works for an event planner, set up lights, sound, stages, and tents. He had 150 extra dog tags made up for Father's Day and sold them for $5 apiece so the Few Good Men could take a busload of kids on an outing to the Shore or a water park.
At 40, Derrick "Smiley" Banks says the neighborhood owes its significant older residents.
"They paved the way for us, and we want them to sleep at night without worrying that somebody is going to knock in the back door," he says.
"If we manage to keep kids occupied and out of trouble on this one day, that's one life saved."
Life remains risky here, even for the innocent.
But Teressa Thomas, 48, stood by proudly yesterday while her son Kenneth Austin, 23 and a financial consultant for Bank of America, marked his first Father's Day. Thomas' 72-year-old mother lives nearby on Somerset Street.
"Things are worse in some respects," Thomas says. "Because of the economy, there is less work than ever for black men and cutbacks in programs to keep the kids off the street. As a result, more men are drawn into the hustle of the street.
"Not all of them," Thomas adds quickly. "There are still a few good men."