National study on roots of gun violence includes Philadelphia

As Philadelphia community leaders and city officials work to slow surging rates of gun violence, a few residents-turned-researchers are digging into the root causes of the crisis in hopes of shedding light on solutions.

Philadelphia is one of five major cities receiving national funding to study the factors driving youth gun violence. The research model involves hiring people with lived experience to ask questions in their own neighborhoods.

Early this month, the research team from New York met with the Philly team to discuss how to hire community researchers, how to recruit neighborhood participants, how to craft survey questions, and other important tasks required for the study.

The goal of the project, which will include interviews with 750 young people across the country, is to ”gain a better understanding of why youth in disadvantaged urban neighborhoods get involved with guns.”

“What we have to find out is who’s in this neighborhood who we know is a shooter, who has shot people and is still shooting?,” said Basaime Spate, one of the researchers from New York who was formerly involved in street violence.

The teams will ultimately come up with recommendations to share with public officials.

A nonprofit called the Fathership Foundation in Southwest Philadelphia is leading the work locally and has hired three research associates from the community so far.

The two teams discussed how Philadelphia might tailor its survey questions.

“Different communities have very different street cultures,” said Fathership Foundation director Jonathan Wilson Jr. “In this region of the country, the big gangs and the national gangs, there’s no real footprint for that in Philadelphia.”

Sarah Sydney, a research associate who also works for the foundation, said she knows which youth they’ll need to talk to.

Sharon Macon, another community member and research associate, said she’s hopeful that their work will inject new information into the gun violence puzzle.

“There’s a lot of people out here who believe change is never gonna happen, but it has to,” Macon said.