PHILADELPHIA - The Black Clergy of Philadelphia hosted a citywide rally in North Philadelphia on Tuesday to support 57 blocks where gun violence is most predominant.
To kickstart the rally, family members of homicide victims spoke about how their lives were forever changed after they received the news that their loved one had been killed.
"My life changed forever," said Stacey Wilkins, who spoke at the rally as she displayed an art portrait of her son. "They shot at my son on a bike nine times. One bullet hit his back and pierced his heart and that's how he died."
The initiative, called the "57 Blocks Project," is a joint effort by more than 50 grass root organizations, the Black Clergy, and the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. It focuses on targeted investment of resources, services, and environmental improvements. It all began after a 2021 Philadelphia Inquirer article highlighted intersections in the city where ten or more people had been shot since 2015.
"To end gun violence we need a multi-layered approach. Police and courts simply cannot solve every problem in every neighborhood. Instead, we need multiple levels of public programs and services that transform not only neighborhoods, but the social inequalities that are at the root of the violence," said Reverend Robert Collier Sr. of the Black Clergy.
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Movita Johnson Harrell says she lost two of her sons to gun violence. One of her sons, Charles, was killed in a case of mistaken identity. Her other son, Dante, was killed in a random drive by shooting while he was visiting California. She says she wanted to be a part of this new initiative's unveiling because she wants to reduce gun violence across the city.
"The gun violence has been rising steadily since 2013," said Johnson Harrell. "Where people of color typically could not get mortgages, we could not get federal resources. These are the blocks with the highest rates of poverty, the highest rates of vacant properties, but the lowest rates of mortality."
In order to change the dynamic of the crime-ridden streets and for the 57 Blocks Project to be successful, local leaders are calling on all area residents, grassroots leaders, elected officials, and law enforcement officers to work cohesively.
"Black Clergy doesn’t have all the answers, but what we do have is the concern, commitment and willingness to do all we can to begin to turn things around in Philadelphia away from violence, and instead towards, job training, education, and more opportunities for people to connect with positive programs," said Reverend Collier in a statement. "The people closest to the pain are in the best position to determine what's necessary to save their communities."
For more information on how you can join the 57 Blocks Project, email firstname.lastname@example.org.