In October, neighbors concluded a Stand Up Nicetown! event with a prayer in the intersection of 17th and Wingohocking.

Update June 20: The Office of Violence Prevention selected 47 recipients for the community violence prevention grants — awarding $700,000 total to various job-training, media and mentorship programs. They’re listed here.

Nicetown residents attempting to take pride in their North Philadelphia neighborhood were interrupted by a round of gunfire over the weekend.

As families gathered together to spruce up their blocks during the annual citywide spring cleanup on Saturday, a shooting broke out. A 26-year-old man was killed and a 17-year-old was wounded — right in front of everyone’s eyes.

“Kids saw that. Kids were outside,” said Kendra Brooks, a mother and founder of Stand Up Nicetown. In the aftermath of the incident, she tried to secure a meeting space to host a community discussion, but without funds to back up the reservation, it took nearly a week to find a good spot.

To make a difference, Brooks needs more resources. And now she might actually get them, thanks to a new initiative from Philly’s Office of Violence Prevention.

Launched on Tuesday, the program will support grassroots anti-violence organizations — with actual money. Community groups and activists can apply for grants, and we’re not talking chump change. According to the city, amounts can range from $500 all the way up to $20,000.

“When you partner with the community, when you engage in that way, you have a chance of making a larger impact,” Theron Pride, OVP’s senior director of violence prevention strategies and programs, told Billy Penn. “We want to work with groups to try to maximize all that effort.”

Basketball leagues, churches, individuals can apply

Philadelphia has distributed various anti-violence grants in the past; the major difference here is you don’t have to be an official nonprofit to receive one.

Funded through a mix of city and state dollars, this outreach is specifically designed for small organizations — neighborhood groups, small businesses, places of worship, even individuals.

“You can say, hey, I’m running a basketball league, doing some programming in the community, and if I just had some extra funds I could get jerseys and food,” Pride explained. “It’s anything that pulls people together and activates space in a powerful way.”

It’s not like the money will be falling from the sky. Applicants have to be able to demonstrate they can make an impact — whether that’s with data, or evidence of your own community engagement skills. Also, you’ve got to be ready to implement the idea immediately, if you haven’t already started. Once the winning groups are selected, they’ll get assistance from the Urban Affairs Coalition in managing their money.

Though new to Philly, this idea’s been tried elsewhere before. NYC’s Safe in the City Grant has been providing community groups with $500 to $1,000 cash bonuses since the summer of 2017 — and data show that the program’s been effective.

An American Sociological Review article reported that community groups can make a lasting impact. In a city with more than 100,000 residents, the addition of just 10 grassroots orgs focused on violence prevention can create:

  • A 9 percent reduction in the murder rate
  • A 6 percent reduction in the violent crime rate
  • A 4 percent reduction in the property crime rate

This makes sense to Eric Marsh, outreach specialist at Public Health Management Corporation and founder of his own anti-violence nonprofit, The Fathering Circle.

“Folks who usually make the decisions are really removed from the communities, and they rely on third- or fourth-degrees of separation to get a sense of what happens,” Marsh said. “These smaller, local organizations are right there, living in the community.”

A Nicetown block captain streams a community event on Facebook Live. Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

If successful, the program will be reupped

The moment Brooks heard about the new program, she texted a group chat of her neighbors to get them started on the application. If she’s selected, Brooks would channel funding into Stenton Park — a recently renovated green space at 16th and West Wyoming Avenue. During the summer, she’d like to offer daily free lunches there for kids, and maybe a neighborhood sports league.

“Our kids need that, because there’s so much trauma in our community,” Brooks said.

Marsh, the outreach specialist, knows volunteers like Brooks all over the city, who’ve worked for decades to better their communities without much help from the city.

“They’ve spent their lives doing this work and really reached a point of burnout, after pouring their own resources and time and energy into it,” he said. “I think this will really help the folks who are doing the work.”

While he awaits submissions, OVP director Pride said he and his staff will canvas neighborhoods to make people aware of the program. And on Saturday, they’re running two 90-minute workshops at the RISE office to help people fill out the application. If all goes well with the first round of funding, the office will keep the initiative going. Pride expects a second application period to open this summer.

“If we can learn as we go with this, we can have something available for grassroots organizations on a regular basis,” Pride said. “The upside here could be enormously positive.”

Interested groups can apply via the city’s Targeted Community Investment Grant Program application, due April 30.

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...