Gun violence is rampant in Nicetown, so this mother is fighting back

Weekly gatherings in the North Philly neighborhood are picking up steam.

Residents concluded their Stand Up Nicetown! event with a prayer in the intersection of 17th and Wingohocking

Residents concluded their Stand Up Nicetown! event with a prayer in the intersection of 17th and Wingohocking

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn
michaelawinberg-square-crop-feb2018

Last Tuesday in Nicetown, a 49-year-old man was shot in his thigh. The time was 4:47 a.m.

Twelve days earlier, a woman was shot in the same neighborhood, around 3:40 a.m.

Nine days before that, another person was shot nearby. What time? Hardly makes a difference, because later that day there was another shooting — and then a third. All in the same day, in the same North Philadelphia neighborhood.

Since the beginning of 2018, Nicetown neighbors have witnessed 43 shootings, five in October alone. Those numbers are up slightly from this time last year, and are bad even by hyperlocal standards: In nearby Fairhill, there’ve been 37 shootings so far, and in Hunting Park the count is 29.

Gun violence in Nicetown has gotten so bad, said resident Kendra Brooks, that each morning, she worries about sending her 10-year-old daughter off to school.

“Over the summer, my kids buried a friend every other week,” she told Billy Penn. “They’re waking me up every other week saying such-and-such got shot.”

But the dedicated mother refused to be paralyzed by her fear.

Brooks, a steering committee member of the 215 People’s Alliance, thought up a temporary solution, which she hopes will leave a lasting impact on her community: Weekly meetings that bring resources directly to the residents of Nicetown.

Tapping into community resources

Called Stand Up Nicetown!, Brooks’ event series has gathered Nicetown residents for the past four weeks at 17th and Wingohocking — the site of a shooting on Sept. 30. Each week, Brooks showcases a different resource that could help the community alleviate its gun violence problem.

On Monday, the community welcomed neighborhood native Eric Marsh with Focus on Fathers, a local fatherhood support program that offers parenting education, case management, counseling services and job-readiness training. Also in attendance were reps from 100 Black Men and Fathers in Action.

Marsh’s presentation emphasized the importance of conflict resolution, especially for men and boys.

“One of the most recent shootings that had occurred was a…conflict between two young men over a girl,” Marsh said. “A lot of this violence has to do with our youth not knowing how to manage conflict, and resorting to violence because that’s what they see around them.”

A Nicetown block captain streamed the community event on Facebook Live.

A Nicetown block captain streamed the community event on Facebook Live.

Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

The group reached about 30 people Monday night, and their physical presence seemed to have an effect. A few young men walking Wingohocking stopped by to join the conversation, collecting pamphlets with resources on their way out.

Nikki Bagby, who raised all her children in Nicetown, pointed to one of those interactions as a positive first step.

“He hugged me, and he was shaking and crying,” Bagby said. “He told me he was struggling. But he stood out here long enough to get paperwork.”

Marsh agreed: “The first step is being out here and being present.”

From a family with two generations of Nicetown roots, Marsh lived in the neighborhood for more than 30 years before recently relocating to West Philly. He’s the perfect example, Brooks said, of Nicetown utilizing its own resources to inspire change.

“People talk about disparity in North Philadelphia, and they don’t realize we have resources we can tap into,” Brooks said. “Hopefully we’ll pick up some momentum and create action.”

What’s next

Next week, the 215 People’s Alliance will remind residents to vote and answer any questions they have about the election. The last meeting of the series will be held Nov. 19 — at which point the community will discuss implementing all the positive change they spent seven weeks learning.

Ideally, Brooks would like to clean up Nicetown’s Stenton Park and organize a job fair for the neighborhood.

“We need to make sure that at the end of this the outcome results in really sustainable resources we can offer young people,” she said.

“Gun violence is bigger than gun violence,” Brooks added. “It’s about resources, and bringing the community together in solidarity to fight for the community we want to see.”