Organizers say Shooting4Success—created after the death of Roxborough High’s Shawnee Anderson—is reaching youth in ways the city never has.
A little over a year ago, the family and friends of Roxborough High School senior Rashawn “Shawnee” Anderson—one of the city’s best young basketball players, eyed by several Division 1 colleges, including Temple—figured that around this time they’d be watching Anderson helping some team move closer to a March Madness berth.
Instead, they visit his grave, mourn his loss and wonder what might have been.
Anderson, 18, was gunned down on Feb. 7, 2011, near his apartment in the Abbottsford housing projects at the edge of Hunting Park. Police believe his death was part of a decades-long cycle of violence and retaliation between rival youths from Abbottsford and nearby Allegheny Avenue, and that Anderson was targeted because he was Abbottsford’s shining star. Stymied by a lack of witnesses and evidence, police still haven't named a suspect or made an arrest in the case.
Speaking with PW a few days after Anderson's funeral, his mother, Tyisha Mincey, vowed, “I’ll never let them forget my boy.” A year later, Mincey has made good on that promise. She and Anderson’s father, “Big Shawn” Anderson, recently founded the nonprofit foundation Shooting4Success.
“This might sound crazy but my son came to me in a dream and told me to honor his name, and this is the best way I know how to do that,” says Mincey.
There are big plans for the future: a group home for boys, a college scholarship at Roxborough High in Anderson’s name, a citywide mentoring program, and a basketball league. But even in its beginning stages, S4S has already shown itself to be a promising tool in bringing youth together to help stem the city’s violence—without the preachy, off-putting approach the city often employs to little effect.
Before Anderson’s death, neither of his parents imagined they’d be devout anti-violence activists. But last Tuesday evening, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting, Mincey and Big Shawn marked the somber occasion by leading about 100 people, many clad in white Shooting4Success sweatshirts, in an hour-long march and vigil through Hunting Park, from Allegheny Avenue up to Abbottsford.
Particularly unique: Most who walked with Anderson’s parents were teenagers and early 20-somethings; Anderson’s friends, peers and classmates who’ve become part of Shooting4Success and are trying to steer other young black youth in the neighborhood and in their schools away from violence. Some of them, says Big Shawn, used to be enemies.
“When you look at the people you’re trying to reach, they’re here, right now,” said Greg Brinkley, 53, a longtime Abbottsford resident and president of the Philadelphia chapter of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, who came out to show his support for S4S. “You never see that. They’re taking it upon themselves to do something, and that’s what you want to happen when you’re talking about a real anti-violence program.”
When they reached Abbottsford, they stopped at the bottom of the hill where Anderson was shot. Someone brought down two large bushels of blue and white balloons—Roxborough High’s team colors—and members of Anderson’s family took turns speaking to the group.
“We’re trying to help you all not become a statistic,” said Mincey, fighting back tears. “Use Shawnee’s name ... to work harder and strive for more.”
On the dark hill, small clusters of kids hugged and sobbed. A group of young men looked skyward as the balloons were released with a “1-2-3-Shawnee!” chant.
“They’re still hurting,” says Anderson’s cousin, Janeka Peace, S4S’s co-director. “Some of them were very, very angry and they used to be like, ‘We about to handle this...’ But now they say they’ll support our cause at any cost because of the love they have for [Shawnee].”
Anderson’s family says they’re still trying to figure out how to get funding for their more ambitious plans, but so far they’ve gotten donations from neighbors, local businesses and one prominent source—Curtis Brinkley, nephew of Greg Brinkley, who grew up at Abbottsford, mentored Anderson and is currently a running back for the San Diego Chargers.
In the meantime, S4S has already put on a number of events to bring rival teens from the area together—particularly tattoo parties, which are more popular with youth than the city’s usual corny cookouts.
The irony of fostering peace via tattoos in the wake of Mayor Nutter’s infamous speech at Mount Carmel Baptist Church last August—when he lambasted kids for the ink on their arms and necks (many communities still bristle at the scolding)—isn’t lost on 25-year-old tattoo artist and S4S participant Kilo Abrams. “You gain a lot more by letting people be who they are and just talking with them,” he says. “If you have events where you bring people together ... and everybody cool with each other, there won’t be as much violence.”
“[Anderson’s killer] could even be at one of [the tattoo parties], we don’t know,” says Peace, “but we got to move past that.”
Already, S4S’s efforts seem to be paying off. The Abbottsford-Allegheny war has cooled off considerably since several retaliatory strikes last summer following Anderson’s killing. Captain Verdell Johnson, who recently took command of the 39th Police District, confirms that “in that particular area we haven’t had any incidents [of violence]” over the past few months. He mostly credits good police work for that, but Brinkley says that the cops could never slow down the violence “but we did by reaching out and bringing people together.”
At Roxborough High School, attended by many of those rival youth, Principal Stephen Brandt says that in the wake of Anderson’s death, which “rocked our school community,” students have rallied around Anderson’s memory and S4S’s message. “I think it absolutely got some kids to look at life a little differently and take an active stance in dealing with issues of violence and helping their peers keep on the right track,” he says.
Like most Abbottsford kids, Rashawn "Shawnee" Anderson frequently made late-evening trips down to Uncle Willie’s to grab a soda and something to eat. But just after 11 p.m. on Feb. 7, police say he was ambushed by at least one person who fired nine times from a .45-caliber handgun. Anderson was struck in the head and neck several times.
Anderson—the Roxborough High School senior and budding basketball star—was gunned down near his apartment in the Abbottsford Homes projects. Police now believe that Anderson’s death is related to at least two other high-profile shootings in the area.