Solutions bubble up in Philadelphia neighborhoods most impacted by gun violence

How residents in Mantua and Kensington are pushing for change.

Brenda Mosley is a community coordinator at NKCDC and runs the nonprofit By Faith, Love, and Healing

Brenda Mosley is a community coordinator at NKCDC and runs the nonprofit By Faith, Love, and Healing

Rian Watkins for Billy Penn
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Mantua resident Rikeyah Lindsay was home one fall day in 2016 when shots rang out at the corner store on the end of her block. It was early morning and neighborhood children were on their way to school, she said, when someone was shot.

“The moment was full circle for me,” Lindsay told Billy Penn. “I felt like my grandmother, pulling children inside my house.”

The following day, she and her aunt marched down to Mount Manor CDC and asked the West Philly community organization how they could do more to tackle gun violence in the area. Together, they planned public awareness campaigns and a peace rally. And in 2019, Lindsay became a staffer at the organization.

Lindsay said her efforts worked for awhile, and the area around her house was calmer. But the moment felt bittersweet. The violence didn’t disappear — it moved elsewhere.

“I can’t say that this felt like any accomplishment because the crime shifted two blocks down,” she said.

That’s the reality of gun violence in Philadelphia. A recent Billy Penn analysis of shooting incidents at the election ward level from 2015 through 2021 found that gun violence emanates outwards from hotspots, and can wax and wane from year-to-year.

Shootings this year are on track to outpace last year’s record of over 2,300 incidents. Meanwhile, some local anti-violence nonprofits are struggling to get their hands on funding from city grant programs. Together, this fosters a high level of fatigue and disillusionment in areas that consistently grapple with gun violence, like West Philly and Kensington.

The city recorded 43 shootings in Mantua last year. A map from the City Controller’s Office highlights four hotspots within the neighborhood. One of them is on 40th and Aspen, a couple of blocks from where Lindsay resides with her family.

In September, Lindsay’s 7-year-old son heard a quadruple shooting at an intersection mere feet from their house. Even more chilling: she recalls him telling her that the noise didn’t scare him.

“We feel like this every single day,” Lindsay said. “Some days you just feel numb. And some days you feel like you can’t live like this.”

A panel hosted by Dimplez 4 Dayz, a nonprofit founded by Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown

A panel hosted by Dimplez 4 Dayz, a nonprofit founded by Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown

Courtesy Dimplez 4 Dayz

Stats can be stressors

Studies show people recovering from past traumatic experiences may be more vulnerable to the side effects of new traumas: anxiety, exhaustion, and dissociation, among other mental and physical reactions.

“If there’s no healing from grief, if every time we wake up we’re hearing about gun violence, we can’t be healthy people,” said longtime Kensington resident Brenda Mosley.

Mosley works as a community connector at North Kensington Community Development Corporation and runs the nonprofit By Faith, Health, and Healing, where she coordinates support groups for mothers and fathers who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence.

The Kensington community is at a breaking point when it comes to managing overlapping crises of gun violence and opioid use.

“We’ve gone from freedom to damn near imprisonment,” Mosley told Billy Penn.

Over the course of 2021, she and the NKCDC staff witnessed 15 shootings on a portion of Tusculum Street near their office. “I am aware that doing my job could lead to a bullet in my head,” wrote NKCDC executive director Bill McKinney in a February op-ed.

Mosley recalled one recent shooting on the corners of Somerset and Helen Streets. The victim attempted to run into her neighbor’s house for protection before dying from his gunshot.

Seeing these visceral experiences reduced into statistics and data points can be weird, and  even add to trauma, she said, though she does appreciate the consistent news coverage of shootings across Philadelphia.

“[There’s] always a level of stress,” Mosley said. “But there’s an increasing level of stress when we hear statistics like the homicide rate.”

Brenda Mosley leads a meeting of By Faith, Love, and Healing

Brenda Mosley leads a meeting of By Faith, Love, and Healing

Rian Watkins for Billy Penn

Balancing shooting tallies with solutions

When Mosley debuted her Kensington grieving mothers program last year, the demand was so high she made room for a cohort of fathers.

The support group — which meets every Monday and Friday through June — comprise 12 women and 13 men. With free open enrollment, the discussions are facilitated by residents approaching the end of their trauma journey and highlight different ways to process grief: through art therapy, exercise, and conversation.

“In any one group there are a lot of different kinds of loss, so these different perspectives are helping each other,” Mosley said.

Efforts like these aren’t uncommon. Up the Block keeps an active database of resources for coping with violence related traumas, including West Philly’s Antviolence Partnerships of Philadelphia, North Philly’s Mothers in Charge, and Every Murder is Real out of Germantown.

In December 2021, the city announced the final round of its Anti-Violence Community Expansion Grant Program awardees, supporting “organizations with proven track records of delivering quality anti-violence interventions.”

Dimplez 4 Dayz is a nonprofit founded by Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown

Dimplez 4 Dayz is a nonprofit founded by Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown

Courtesy Dimplez 4 Dayz

Often, communities dealing with intense gun violence are also the ones driving solutions.

“When I look at my neighbors, there are community citizens who want change,” said Mantua resident Lindsay.

She points to Dimplez 4 Dayz, a nonprofit Southwest Philly teenager Akayla Brown created to provide wraparound services for under-resourced community members. What started with bookbag drives and lunch drops at local bus stations grew into a resource center at 3509 Haverford Ave. The group hosts an afterschool workforce development program, which helps 50 teens across the city write resumes, procure working papers, and prep for college.

“We’re a safe haven,” Dimplez 4 Days Executive Director (and Akayla’s mom) Angela Richardson told Billy Penn. “The youth involved in our programs have been victims of violence, but they haven’t been out there in the streets committing acts of violence.”

Lindsay believes news media could do more to combat retraumatization. To her, balancing shooting tallies with solutions from the community would go a long way to ease disillusionment.

“As much as we highlight the negative, it’s important to see that not everyone in these communities are dying, doing the killing, or letting their fear stop them,” said Lindsay. “Seeing people trying to instill change tells others they can do it, too.”