Writer KIA GREGORY, a native of North Philadelphia, pleads with visiting members of the NAACP to help stop the killing of our children.
She knew where I was every minute.
And just in case she blinked or had to run an errand, there were the nosy neighbors--Ms. Jean, Ms. Ora, Ms. Emma and Mr. Henry. They all knew me simply as Phyllis' girl, and they all felt free to tell me when I was being too fresh. They all had my mother's phone number on speed-dial.
I didn't appreciate my mother's devotion until I was much older.
Mixed in with the hardworking neighbors who swept the sidewalks in front of their houses and who struggled to send their kids to good schools--often Catholic--were the welfare queens, the drug dealers, the teen mothers, the high school dropouts, the drunks and the crackheads who dragged the neighborhood down and who tried to take naive and unsuspecting kids along for the ride.
Today when I visit my mother, my old neighborhood feels crowded and louder than I remember. The graffiti is gone, and many of the houses have been redeveloped, but there's a palpable despair.
There are abandoned houses, trash-strewn streets and businesses that sell beer and blunts. Cars zoom by, blasting rap and hip-hop. Kids run up and down the sidewalk. Residents sit on their tiny front lawns. Guys in long white Ts and baggy jeans hang on the corners. Young girls dressed in thigh-high skirts and midriff shirts push their babies in strollers.
My mom is always glad to see me. But too often I cut my visits short. I leave to find some peace.
Back when I lived there, people settled their disputes with taunts and fistfights. Death didn't visit your home.
But today young people face death like soldiers at war. You hear it in their conversation. Their words are laced with the coldness of loss.
They know we're failing them. They're angry, and they're afraid.
When our mayor was first elected, he proclaimed 2000 the "Year of the Child."
The result of that announcement was a network of community-based services for children and families, including youth violence prevention.
He also created the Neighborhood Transformation Initiative to eventually replace the city's thousands of blighted, abandoned buildings with commercial and residential development.
Our school district developed a zero- tolerance policy and created alternative schools for disruptive students.
Our police department enacted Operation Safe Streets to shut down open-air drug markets.
Here in Philadelphia we have countless people in organizations like the NAACP and the Urban League, antiviolence groups like Men United for a Better Philadelphia, Mothers in Charge and the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network, think tanks like Philadelphia Citizens for Children and Youth, Public/Private Ventures, Project H.O.M.E. and Safe and Sound, and local churches that dedicate their time and energy to saving our young people.
Our local NAACP (with reportedly 5,000 members) has an active ACT-SO (Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics) competition, with more than a hundred students participating. This year 10 of our students will compete at your national convention.
There's also a budding Youth Council, with about 50 members.
And recently the Philadelphia NAACP contributed $10,000 to a "Save the Children Camp Fund," which would allow children traumatized by violence to escape to a suburban farm for a week in summer.