A Call to Action

As I sat to write this message on December 11, I was already overwhelmed by the fact that in Philadelphia 2012 may be deadlier than 2011. As I sat updating it after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, I was both deeply saddened and weirdly hopeful.

I grew up not far from Newtown and in many ways it is like Newtown Square. What happened there is incomprehensible unless you are a parent who has struggled to find the appropriate mental health services for your son like Liza Long. And despite the strong leadership of Police Commissioner Ramsey and the best intentions of hundreds of non-profits in the city dedicated to keeping our children safe, violent crime persists. In fact there were more than 100 homicides in Philadelphia just in December and today, I read that there were 5 murders just yesterday. 

So, why am I hopeful? I am hopeful because the President, the Vice President, leaders in Congress and throughout the country, and public safety and public health experts are speaking out about the evidence that links weak gun laws with greater gun violence, the connections between healthy brains and resilience, and the dramatic reduction in gun homicides (59% in a decade) and suicide by firearms (65%) when Australia banned  all automatic and semiautomatic weapons in 1996. Thus, despite the loudest skeptics and the unsubstantiated claims of the NRA, more people are thoughtfully considering and talking about gun violence and this is the first step to developing the collective will necessary to effect change.

Two years ago, the Philadelphia Inquirer published a Pulitzer Award winning series profiling the problems with safety and school climate in the Philadelphia School District. Largely oblivious to the crisis in the schools, I rapidly became a scholar of the situation, and dove into a rabbit hole of disconnected violence reduction work taking place in this city that seems to have no end. After dozens of meetings, conversations, and conferences, I became convinced that Stoneleigh had an obligation and role to play in the prevention of violence in school, at home and in community. Thus, when the Chair of the School Reform Commission approached the Foundation seeking support for a fellow to develop a comprehensive, uniform school safety and climate strategy, we were supportive. Despite that the issue fell outside of our core definition of vulnerable children, Stoneleigh understood that there is no more vulnerable child than the one who isn’t safe.

To advance the conversation, we focused our 2012 Stoneleigh Symposium on Youth Violence. Over 200 people from our community came to hear about diverse solutions. However, in the absence of a citywide strategy, connecting the dots remained a challenge. And so we persisted to determine how and where Stoneleigh could bring leadership and resources to advance a Youth Violence Prevention agenda. We studied other cities and other philanthropic collaborations. We pushed our way into meetings that we hoped would reveal a path. Finally, with the Department of Justice’s designation of Philadelphia as a National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention site, we found an opening and earlier this month, the Stoneleigh Board agreed to invest in a sustained initiative that will advance the vision of a Philadelphia with no youth homicides.

Though we have yet to fully define our initiative, we are certain that it will take more than Stoneleigh and its Fellows to achieve the vision. We know that it will take a chain of solutions, not just the metaphorical silver bullet, and it will take us all asking “What can I do?” A child dying in our community from violence is unacceptable and hurts every one of us who lives, works, plays and loves our city.

Perhaps the nation is more willing today to seriously look at the dual elephants in the living room: gun policy and mental health, but there is much that we can do right here, right now. The solution will require a media that asks “Where did the gun come from used by the teen who killed?” not just who did he kill. It will require enlightened employers who recognize and value their next generation workforce and want their current employees to feel safe at home and at work. It will require government intervention that is data-driven and evidence-based.  It will require better and more coordination among many stakeholders and a framework for understanding and addressing the root cause of violence in our communities. And, it will require all of us in the philanthropic sector to share knowledge, identify funding gaps and promote dialogue to strategically align our efforts to increase our impact on youth violence in Philadelphia. During the next few months, Stoneleigh will be developing a theory of change that is child-centered, embedded in community, and data-driven.  I encourage anyone who wants to learn with us and align for impact to contact me at any time.

My wish for the New Year is that this community rises to the challenge that our children are dying and we can stop it. 

Share |


Leave a Comment