Homicide is the leading cause of death for young black men in Philly. What should we do?

We spoke with five community leaders to get their ideas for solutions.

A memorial marked each of the city's 331 gun violence victims in 2012

A memorial marked each of the city's 331 gun violence victims in 2012

Flickr Creative Commons / Cocoabiscuit

For young black men in Philadelphia, the risk of homicide looms large.

A report released in March by Philly’s Health Department identified homicide as the leading cause of death for black men aged 15 to 34. Nearly 60% of all non-Hispanic black men who died in Philly in 2016 were victims of gun violence.

The phenomenon isn’t new. Gun violence has historically impacted black men more than any other population. Local violence prevention workers were mostly unsurprised by the report’s findings, they told Billy Penn. But they said having localized statistics presented in stark relief can be helpful.

“They just put numbers on stuff that’s been happening for a long time,” said James Aye, co-founder of the Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout. “Hopefully, it catches people’s attention.”

On the heels of the Health Department report, the city launched a grant program to help communities reduce these homicide rates. Will it help? And what else could leaders do to move the needle in a positive direction, especially for the people who are most at risk?

We asked five black men — leaders in their community who work every day to reduce violence on Philly’s streets — to weigh in with their thoughts.

Their ideas for actionable solutions include:

  • Create an “asset framework” and strengthen pipelines
  • Use arts to inspire, teach relationship skills
  • Create customized street-level youth programs
  • Teach the trades and hold parents accountable
  • Fund schools, support teachers, teach culturally relevant curriculums

Read more in their own words below.

Editor’s note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity.

Juwan Bennett

Fifth year doctoral student in Temple’s criminal justice department, co-founder of the Urban Youth Leadership Academy, a mentoring program, housed at the College of Education

Juwan Bennett

Juwan Bennett


Create an ‘asset framework’ and strengthen pipelines

We look at things from a deficit when it comes to African American people, and we should, but sometimes we need to have an asset framework. For me, when I think about anti-violence work, how can we think about it from an asset mindset? That’s how I approach my work.

We have to stop these one-off programs and create institutional pipelines or structures for success. People need, more than anything, an opportunity — but also to be prepared for those opportunities. I’m thinking about programs in middle schools and elementary schools. When you grow up in Philly, you’re faced with a lot. They need to see the pathways. A lot of time, because education is delayed gratification, people who are disadvantaged don’t have the luxury of delayed gratification, of not providing for their family.

We should be creating opportunity and also preparing people for those opportunities. People should be able to see: You can start here and end up here.

Ihsan Hines

Organizer at My Brother’s Keeper (MBK Cares), a suicide prevention organization that runs concerts and performing arts events, connects people with counseling services, and plans conferences for mental health nonprofits to work together

Ihsan Hines

Ihsan Hines

Courtesy Ihsan Hines

Use arts to inspire, teach relationship skills

I’d like the city to get more involved with the creative and performing arts. That gives young people an opportunity to express themselves and see something come from it. Whether it’s an opportunity in school, an opportunity to record music in studios, to do production work — I think young people just need an opportunity to feel like they don’t need to take another life. The creative and performing arts component is good.

I keep hearing things about distraught breakups resulting in murder-suicides. It’s definitely something that’s connected. I can try to focus my work on relationship counseling to help people not commit murder-suicides.

James Aye

Co-founder, Youth Empowerment for Advancement Hangout (Y.E.A.H. Inc.), an organization based out of Cobbs Creek Recreation Center that provides anti-violence services to kids ages 12 to 19

James Aye

James Aye

Courtesy James Aye

Create customized street-level youth programs

Nationally, statistically, the age range of 13 to 25, you’re already at a high risk. But at the same time, there isn’t a lot out here for teens, nothing that’s free for the community to use as a resource. We just want to focus on helping that age range be able to have access to and knowledge of things they need to know before they’re adults.

The Office of Violence Prevention grant program, that’s the most meaningful thing that can be done at the moment. It’s the street-level, smaller, community-based programs that are really able to help kids. We did apply for that. We want to give youth a stipend this summer to engage in something that’s productive, something to take away from it. We have a lot of different components to what we’re doing.

The most important thing is to do it community by community. It really has to be that community-based. We’re specifically targeting Cobbs Creek, and we’re still partnering with other nonprofits in that same community so we can share resources.

Nashid Edwards

Vice president of the Donovan Williams Memorial Foundation, a suicide prevention organization that uses basketball to deliver positive messages to youth

Nashid Edwards

Nashid Edwards

Courtesy Nashid Edwards

Teach the trades and hold parents accountable

I believe that the city needs to bring back industrial classes in their public schools. We need to realize that the only way to attack this problem is to get back into the schools and teach our youth trades. The next step is to hold parents just as guilty as our youth because these young men are angry. They’re carrying broken hearts that need to be softened.

On June 8, my organization will host a “Stop The Violence” basketball tournament to bring the message of stopping the violence.

Eric Marsh

Outreach coordinator at PHMC’s Focus on Fathers, a parent education and case management program; co-founder of The Know Bullying Coalition and The Fathering Circle

Eric Marsh

Eric Marsh

Courtesy Eric Marsh

Fund schools, support teachers, teach culturally relevant curriculums

It is heartbreaking to see that black men and boys’ lives are lost to such preventable and unnecessary circumstances. Everywhere we turn we see and hear about the death of black boys. From police-involved shootings to crime-related and interpersonal shootings, black men and boys are walking around with targets on their chests.

My first recommendation to put the money where their mouths are. The city has an Office of Black Male Engagement that was instrumental in creating this report along with the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males, and yet it has no real reach or beneficial impact on the black men in this city.

We need our schools properly funded, teachers supported, and culturally relevant curriculum in their effort to uplift black children. Stop with the summer basketball camps! It’s an insult. Not every black boy plays basketball and that has nothing to do with the emotional and psychological stress and trauma that leads to violence. We need a variety of programs from art, music, STEM, etc. to athletics as well but more than anything we need hope. We need to see a way out of poverty or else the things that lead to these statistics will become further normalized.

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