ABOVE PHOTO: Members of youth forum panel are from left to right: Aurica Hurst, Mahliq Alexander, Sebastian Pierre, Kalief Jones, Antonio McKenzie, David Nixon and moderator Paul Johnson. (Photo courtesy: Kendall Alexander)
By Kendall Alexander
This past Friday the office of State Senator Art Haywood (D-4th Dist.)and Philadelphia Ceasefire hosted a panel discussion on violence and what can be done to combat the bloodshed from the perspective of those who live it entitled “Youth Forum: Peace in the Northwest.” Held at Simon’s Recreation Center, panelists came all the way from Southwest Philly to offer insight on community violence, although the primary focus was youth living in the Northwest region of the city.
Five panelists explained to audience members the reasons why they believe violence is so prominent in their neighborhoods, driving the message of lack of resources, fear, and glorification of such in mainstream music home.
This event is particularly timely as Senator Haywood recently introduced Resolution SR 148, which declares June “Gun Violence Awareness Month.”
Moderated by Paul Johnson of AKRF — an engineering firm in the city — he described his own journey through the neighborhoods of West Philly, and why it was important for him to turn his life around, as he has a young son that looks up to him. Paul was joined by Aurica Hurst of Southwest Philadelphia, Mahliq Alexander from the Northwest, Sebastian Pierre of East Falls, and Kalief Jones, Antonio McKenzie, and David Nixon, all from North Philly. Panelists ranged from ages 15-26 and shared personal accounts of how firearms caused tension in their lives and families. Kalief Jones believes a lack of resources contributes a great deal to gun violence. “It’s extremely hard coming from where we come from to get where we may wanna be,” Jones said.
Aurica Hurst understands youth need an avenue to express themselves rather than be in the streets. “Young people want their voice to be heard,” she obessed. Hurst chooses to inspire youth who might otherwise get overlooked and to offer helpful outlets, therefore keeping them out of the streets. You can’t be what you can’t see, and many young people in these neighborhoods don’t know what options are available. Antonio McKenzie believes young people become desensitized to the violence, “it gets to the point where gun violence is normal to them.”
The violence in this part of the city does not seem to be ceasing. As the temperatures increase, so does the level of crime in the city, and the numbers are quite alarming. According to the 14th Police District, there have been a total of 10 shooting victims, 3 homicides, 16 gun robberies, 79 thefts from an automobile, and 31 stolen vehicles, since May 1st. What are some ways these numbers can be addressed? “Trust has been compromised with youth so many times, you have to ask permission to lead them,” Jones explained as he understands there needs to be a plan in place for restoration in these communities. Pierre thinks a youthful approach via social media will help make waves in the right direction.
Jones and Alexander both shared harrowing stories of how violence found them and their friends by happenstance. Jones explained that he was shot three times in what he says was a case of mistaken identity, and Alexander told of three separate instances in which he was robbed at gunpoint — and in one case pistol- whipped not — far from his Mt. Airy residence.
Each panelist spoke candidly about their experiences in the hope to raise awareness and combat the issue of crime especially with firearms emphasized that is on the rise in our communities as well as throughout the nation.
During the question and answer portion of the event, Executive Director of Northwest Victim Services Melany Nelson the point that services are out there for victims of violence to come forward and seek help. Michael O’Bryan of The Village of Arts and Humanities spoke in defense of youth, explaining oftentimes these services are only available after trauma has been committed, as opposed to before. “There is no safety net for the new generation,” he said.
Johnson made the point that early detection is key in getting youth to think differently about violence. According to Philadelphia Ceasefire, there were 5,051 youth shot in the city in 2016. Marla Davis Bellamy, Director of Philadelphia Ceasefire, expressed next steps in keeping the conversation going, “we all own a piece of this. I challenge us to continue this dialogue to affect change.” Pat Edouard, Community Liaison of Office of Senator Haywood and host of the event closed out by reminding attendees that it is easier to empower a child than a broken adult and utilizing the community by acting “ubuntu,” the Zulu word for “together.”
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