Writer KIA GREGORY, a native of North Philadelphia, pleads with visiting members of the NAACP to help stop the killing of our children.
"Of course, I'm a man, I want to help her," Travis says.
Travis is 17.
"But going out there selling and dealing would hurt her more than our financial problems. The best thing I could do is be the best son I can be."
While Travis' mother is at work, he straightens up the house and looks after his younger brother. Four days a week he works at a Center City law firm, filing and running errands.
"Everything has hope and potential to be better," says Travis. "But honestly, the violence is so crazy right now, you really can't be sure. Thank God nobody close to me has been murdered or killed, but I'm still affected by the life that's lost. It's a sad thing when a brutha or sista doesn't live to reach their potential."
Too many black kids accept the fact that they may never graduate from high school or college, may never find a job, get married or have children. They grow up knowing that something as innocent as staring, bumping into someone's arm or stepping on someone's shoe could cost them their life.
Johnny Patterson is 16. He attended seven funerals this past school year. Eight of his classmates at Simon Gratz were killed--seven seniors and one freshman. Raymond Dawson, one of his friends, was shot and killed in a robbery while he was selling flowers.
"It's like everybody is dying around you," says Johnny, who wears a suit and tie to school every day. "You don't know what's next, so you try to live for the moment."
Johnny lives in Nicetown with his grandparents to be closer to school, but he longs to be somewhere else.
"There's nothing really here for you but a bunch of negativity," he says. His grandmother tries to be strict--he has an 11 p.m. curfew--which gets on his nerves, but he knows she does it to protect him. Johnny says more parents should do the same.
As Gratz's school president, Johnny attends meetings with students and local groups to brainstorm ways to end violence. Everyone agrees the students can't do it alone.
Johnny offers the following as evidence: There are teachers who read the newspaper while students smoke weed and play cards in class. He says that about a fifth of the parents showed up on a recent report card day. And there are students who come to class weary and dazed from partying all night.
"It starts with the parents," says Johnny. "We have to tell them about the violence and how it affects us. Otherwise, it's like me learning Spanish in school, but having no one at home to speak it to. It's a waste."
Basheemah Brown, 17, and her family recently moved to South Philadelphia's Wilson Park from the Tasker Homes projects. Her new neighborhood is a development of recently renovated townhouses.
As a message to the new neighbors, someone spray-painted the walls with "Fuck Tasker" and "We lay Tasker bitches on their back" throughout the development.
Basheemah says girls get jumped all the time, and that neighborhood brawls are frequent ringside events. To keep bullies at bay, Basheemah says she travels through the neighborhood with a hard stare that reads: Don't mess with me. I'm not playing.
One recent afternoon Basheemah was sitting in her bedroom, listening to the radio, when gunshots pierced the calm. She says she just shook her head, because, as she says, I'm "just so used to it."
"I shouldn't have to live this way," says Basheemah. "I don't like it when people say it's guns everywhere and it's violence everywhere, because it's not. You don't hear about people in Center City or the suburbs shooting people at the drop of a dime.
"I wouldn't wish living here on anyone."
PW's Music Issue 2014