Four Philadelphia nonprofits originally planned events centered around gun violence for Saturday, May 7.
Organizers say the initial quadruple-booking speaks to both the urgency to solve the city’s crisis, and the need for more collaboration on the issue. Most of the groups have since had to reschedule their events due to rain, or are considering doing so.
“The moment that we start sticking together and show up in strength and solidarity, then we can do better,” said Tone Barr, community liaison director of the Philadelphia Masjid in Northwest Philadelphia. “But I think it’s too divided.”
Barr created an interfaith group called PhillyUnitedAs1 to help plan his “Day of Serenity,” and chose to hold it on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. The event is designed to provide a healing space for people impacted by gun violence as well as spread the word about prevention programs for youth.
He says Mother’s Day is a crucial time to draw attention to the surging number of shootings – which are currently on track to surpass the 2,300 incidents last year – and get a message across to people at risk of engaging in violence.
“Maybe they can hear a grieving mother talk about how hard it is for her to cope or how to keep going on in life,” he said. “Then maybe they might not be so quick to pull that trigger.”
Mazzie Casher, founder of nonprofit Philly Truce, also saw Mother’s Day weekend as the logical choice for his culture carnival and resource fair, where he hopes to get residents, nonprofits, and politicians to commit to a 25-year plan to reduce gun violence.
“We got to make a statement to the mothers of the city who are losing their children to say, ‘look, we’re going to give it some kind of effort, some kind of a communal effort’,” he said.
Researchers who study social organization have lifted up the “collective impact model” – the idea that multiple groups combining their resources will make a bigger dent in a problem than organizations working alone.
It’s an idea that’s been shown to work in some cities tackling homelessness, food insecurity, and other systemic issues, because it helps small nonprofits increase their capacity, build political will and implement changes more quickly.
Sara Solomon, deputy director for the Penn Injury Science Center, said there is a lot of energy in Philadelphia’s gun violence space right now, but organizations don’t always want to put in the time to plan and work together.
“Organizations want to act,” she said. “They just want to go ahead and keep moving and have their event because over the next few days there’s going to be one more shooting and then another shooting and then another. “
She’s currently launching an effort to inventory Philadelphia’s gun violence nonprofits, with the ultimate goals of bringing people together to work collectively, and evaluating the impact.
“It’s too bad that we’re all walking on each other’s toes,” she said. “Imagine if all of the four events that were going on at the same time were one larger, cohesive event sharing resources, getting more people.”
Solomon has been involved with the Beloved Care Project, a nonprofit hosting an anti-gun violence street festival originally planned for Saturday. That event was set to take place within a quarter mile of a youth “stop the violence” day at Francis J. Meyers Recreation Center.
Khalif Mujahid-Ali, Beloved Care Project founder, said multiple efforts in the same area are a plus because people can connect with their own neighbors and have the option to go to two events in one day.
He said he heard about the event at the Meyers center, but it didn’t faze him.
“I said, ‘what’s the problem?’,” he said. “I just want people to come out more, start doing more. People say ‘I want to do that too’, and that’s good.”
Barr, of the Philadelphia Majid, said he didn’t hear about the other events until recently. He said he wasn’t surprised, given the resistance he’s encountered between some groups working on the gun violence issue.
“Once we’re able to put the nonsense aside .. then that’s when we’ll be able to start moving forward,” he said.
To help with coordination, Casher created a community calendar where gun violence nonprofits can list their events. So far, it’s only being used by a few groups.
“Everybody’s beefing with everybody about something,” Casher said. “We gotta do some healing. So people should come if they [are] sick and tired of the status quo in Philadelphia.”
Other cities are making attempts at better collaboration. Kansas City’s Community Safety Partnership and New Orleans’s Gun Violence Prevention Collective both aim to cinch government and nonprofit efforts together to solve the problem.
In Delaware County, the city of Chester successfully reduced gun violence through its Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods initiative. The city has seen a 44% decrease in gun violence homicides and a 34% decrease in overall shootings with victims since 2020, according to Chester Mayor Thaddeus Kirkland. He cited working closely with community organizations as a driver of the success.
Gun violence prevention advocates say it’s important to continue bringing people together around the issue and connecting residents to whatever services they might need, be it job help, therapy, legal assistance, support during a homicide investigation, relocation, or conflict resolution training.
Some of the events initially planned for Saturday are partially funded by the City of Philadelphia. The city’s Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives for Criminal Justice & Public Safety is currently accepting applications for the fifth round of Targeted Community Investment Grants, which aim to support nonprofits doing gun violence prevention work, including hosting events. Those grantees will be announced in June.