A Voice From Philadelphia's Youth

Have you ever gone to sleep to the sound of gunshots?  Or woke up to them?  Well, unfortunately I have.

Living in a not so good neighborhood can be tough, especially if guns and drugs are all around you. I am an 18 year old African American woman that lives in the Frankford section of Philadelphia where there is nothing but violence all around. I have lived there for almost 10 years of my life.

I’ve seen so much violence in this neighborhood I am numb to it. Someone getting shot or arrested on a daily basis is normal to me. Hearing sirens and seeing police cars zoom down the streets is an everyday thing for me. Though I haven’t been hurt, the violence around me indeed affects me.

One morning I was preparing to go to my WorkReady internship for professional development, but couldn’t because there was a shooting at the train I needed to take to get there. Another morning, I woke up to go to school, but I couldn’t because a gun fight broke out right in front of my home. Not being free to go where I need to go because I fear for my safety both upsets me and makes me very angry. How is someone supposed to feel safe when I can’t even feel so in the comfort of my own home? I can’t and, honestly, I don’t feel safe anywhere I go.

School is also supposed to be a safe haven for children, but not my school.

Frankford High School was a very unsafe experience for me. Kids brought guns, knives and other harmful items that aren’t permitted in school. While attending Frankford, I have seen the good, but so very much of the bad. Fights broke out almost every day. There were riots after school, racial disputes, people jumping one another, and stabbings. It seemed to never stop.

Two of the most terrifying incidents happened to me when I was actually walking to class. One day, two boys were in each other’s faces getting loud with one another and the next thing I knew, one boy pulled out a gun and showed it to the other. As he threatened him to back up, I quickly ran into the nearest classroom for safety.

The other incident also happened when I was walking to class. I was walking down the stairs and passed a side exit door with a window, I saw a hole in the window and thought to myself “please don’t tell me this is a bullet hole.” I found out that five minutes prior to me being in front of that door, somebody was shooting outside and a stray bullet came flying through that window. I thought that if I were five minutes early to class, I could have been shot in school minding my own business.

When things like this happen, I think to myself. “Why am I still attending this school?” and, “Why do I live in this neighborhood?” Then I ask myself, “Where else is there to go?” Violence is everywhere and we can’t afford to live in a nicer neighborhood where the schools and streets might be safer. Unfortunately, I have to live in this chaos.

Fortunately, I have found many great outlets to turn a negative thing into something positive. One of the great opportunities that I have had was working as an intern at the Stoneleigh Foundation through the Philadelphia Youth Network (PYN).

Working at Stoneleigh for six months has been one of the best experiences for me. I was given so many great opportunities such as being able to attend School District Of Philadelphia meetings to consider revisions to the code of conduct and what kids thought was needed to improve safety. It was especially important to me because I was attending a public high school. I also took part in a City Council meeting dealing with the district’s financial crisis. In May I attended Stoneleigh Foundation’s annual symposium From Risk to Resilience: What Youth Need to Thrive, which had many great speakers talking about topics that I experience and ways my community can help prevent violence and the impacts I feel from it.

 My experience working at Stoneleigh has strongly affected my personal view on the violence in my neighborhood. Being able to do research on the things that actually go on in my neighborhood and knowing that there are so many solutions and prevention organizations out here that are willing to make a difference and make the community a better place warms my heart. It has motivated me a lot because I honestly thought that things in my neighborhood and school could never change. I am hopeful that over time, with the help of many great organizations, things can improve.  

I have learned so much throughout my time at Stoneleigh and I am beyond grateful to be given such a great opportunity and to be able to help. I can proudly say that I have contributed something positive not only to Stoneleigh Foundation, but to the world. My advice to young people: It takes one step at a time, but don’t rush you’ll eventually get it done and it doesn’t matter where you started, it’s where you finish. This is my story.

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Tags: Resiliency

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