Writer KIA GREGORY, a native of North Philadelphia, pleads with visiting members of the NAACP to help stop the killing of our children.
No one seems to know why youth violence in our city is on the rise.
People tell me that if it were white kids being killed in these kinds of numbers, something would be done. Social forces would band together until the violence stopped.
Others--echoing recent comments by one of our most famous native sons, Bill Cosby--say that as black people we need to get our house in order; that as parents we're failing to care for our children; that we're allowing drug dealers to occupy our neighborhoods; that we let the schools miseducate our kids; that we let the government get away with failing to invest in businesses, decent jobs and affordable quality housing in our neighborhoods.
Over the past year I've talked to a number of Philly kids. From them, you hear another story.
"I believe it's loneliness," says Travis Wilcox, a rising senior at West Catholic, dressed in a white-and-red Rocawear shirt, with his fitted baseball cap cocked to the side. "We all want love, and if we feel that we're neglected at home, we're going to look to the streets. The streets aren't going to turn you away."
"All kids need attention," says James Heath, 15, who lives in North Philadelphia. "If they don't have attention, they gonna do something to get your attention, even if it's wrong. Even if it's getting shot or locked up."
I grew up in North Philadelphia, in the Norman Blumberg housing projects, during the '80s, when crack cocaine and violent crime were at their peak. Graffiti marred the walls. Empty crack vials and nickel bags littered the streets. Wide-eyed, skeleton-like zombies peddled their mother's television or camera or VCR or whatever else they could come up with to pay for their next hit.
Purses and gold chains were snatched routinely.
Drug wars and shootouts were frequent.
The pow-pow-pow of gunshots was a familiar sound, as was the wail of police sirens.
My mother could distinguish gunshots from a firecracker or a car backfiring. I never could. But when gunshots sounded, my brothers and I knew to drop to the floor, crawl away from the window and wait till our mother told us it was safe.
It wasn't until I was older that I understood why some of my childhood friends weren't allowed to visit my home. No mother wanted her child to be robbed or murdered, and that always seemed possible in the projects.
But at the same time, in a way I still don't quite understand, life could be utterly peaceful. Our home was a modest four-bedroom house with a backyard of grass and rose bushes. In the winter there were snowball fights and hot lemonade.
My school hosted talent shows and skating parties.
In the summer there were barbecues and endless games of hide-and-seek and stickball. My friends and I would ride our bikes, play hopscotch and jump double-dutch for hours on the wall-to-wall concrete, all under the gaze of the shadowy figure from my window.
My mother had one rule: Do what I say.
She demanded that I do well in school.
She knew all of my friends, and chose some of them for me.