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Urban Navigation: Helping to End Youth Violence in DelVal Communities

Kids are shooting kids.

In Philadelphia, the 2021 murders were the highest in decades—562. And as of Feb. 10, 55 people have been murdered this year. People point fingers at city officials and the state legislature, the police, and the schools. But who is doing something to help?

Enter Urban Navigation.

This new organization, founded by Don Jackson and Hameen Diggins, is stepping up to get kids on the right track and keep them there. Already operating in Philadelphia, they are in talks with the City of Chester, Collingdale, Upper Darby, and Ardmore to bring Urban Navigation to the suburbs.

Jackson, a founder of the Philadelphia Technician Training Institute, said the technical school is for students 18 and older and teaches them skills to get good-paying jobs.

Don Jackson (left) and Hameen Diggins

But with the rising crime rate, he decided that younger kids needed guidance and to learn some skills, too.

“There’s a rise in all the gun activity,” said Jackson. “So what we did was we started looking at younger kids, and what we understand is getting to them while they’re still at the stage that they haven’t graduated to the next level of stuff.”

Urban Navigation teaches kids technical skills, like fixing their bicycles, fixing small motor machines like dirt bikes or ATVs, and gun safety.

“You know, they’re riding down the street, doing wheelies or whatnot, and kids are very much into bicycles,” he said. “Just peddling, 50 kids peddling.”

Jackson said they have also worked to get groups of young ATV riders that plague Philadelphia streets into areas where it is safe and legal to ride those vehicles. They use “media, music, videography…everything that basically attracts our youth. And social media. We developed a virtual reality platform.”

“We give them conflict resolution training,” said Jackson.

Diggins said, “We saw the need when it came to the youth culture, to give them a voice. So we knew how to help them.”

Diggins’ own experiences of being raised in foster care and group homes help him relate to the underprivileged kids, he said. He survived a difficult childhood and is now a nurse, a photographer, a DJ, and a certified life coach.

“Gun violence is out of control,” said Diggins. “We give them a reason not to shoot, to give them an alternative by having gun safety education.”

The kids already have guns, he said. “We focus on the value of life. We have to give youth a reason not to shoot each other. If they value themselves, they value others.”

“There is a lot of misplaced anger,” Diggins said. “We try to give them a different way to look at things.”

“A lot of this is them trying to be seen,” he said.

Urban Navigation has programs for kids from 8 to 19.

If their parents are not present in kids’ lives, through dads abandoning the family or mothers on drugs, “the street becomes the parent,” and the kids join gangs. Urban Navigation combats that by offering positive activities, he said.

Learning to fix things is helpful. The kids then “understand their hands can be used for a lot more than violence.”

Jackson said, “We deal with a lot of trauma in these young kids. They’re going through broken homes. They got a single parent; maybe one of their parents passed away. They got an older sibling getting ready to go to jail.”

“We want to teach these kids how to be productive citizens,” said Jackson. “We involve them in after-school activities. We’ll teach you how to repair the power sports, as well.

Jackson said they’ve invested $200,000 of their own money to get the nonprofit, up and running. To keep the kids safe, all of the adults working with them go through criminal background checks.

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Temple University Re-engaging With Philly Police After Student Murder, Despite Embrace of ‘Defund’ Movement

In response to the murder of one of its students, Temple University President Dr. Jason Wingard said in a campus-wide email it will “work with the Philadelphia Police Department to increase their presence off campus,” to boost student security.

The move comes after a year in which Temple administrators and students have debated and occasionally embraced facets of the “Defund the Police” movement, which sprang up in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, an event so shocking it ignited a new, national reckoning on race.

The university is currently working to quell fears after Samuel Collington, a 21-year-old senior at the university, was shot and killed in the middle of the day within blocks of the campus.

“Students are afraid. Parents are afraid. Parents are afraid for students’ safety,” student government president Bradley Smutek told the Inquirer.

Besides increasing patrols in cooperation with Philadelphia Police, Wingard also promised to “increase our Campus Safety force by 50%” and to “collaborate with city leaders to expand anti-violence initiatives to reduce shootings and homicides in North Philadelphia and across the city.”

Last June, however, the mood at Temple was more about distancing itself from Philadelphia Police.

“In the past, Temple has provided a small amount of support to the Philadelphia Police Foundation through charitable donations,” university president Richard M. Englert said in a brief statement. “Upon review and community input, we have decided that the university will no longer provide this support,” and that the funds would be reallocated “to support social justice programs at the university.”

The Philadelphia Police Foundation is an IRS-recognized nonprofit where funds “go directly toward providing critical equipment, technology, training and innovative programs to help the Philadelphia Police Department improve public safety and enhance service to the city,” according to the foundation’s website.

“Over the past three years, Philadelphia area individuals, businesses and foundations have generously contributed over $2.0 million to underwrite over a dozen of the Department’s most critical, but unbudgeted priorities,” the website adds.

A request for comment to the university on the shift in attitudes toward police was not returned.

Despite the political pressures that emerged from the Floyd killing, the university rebuffed a petition on Change.org from earlier in June 2020, that called for a total severing of all ties between the university and Philly police.

“Temple University claims that ‘racism within our community is not tolerated,’ but they are willing to fund the very institution that suppresses the message of #BlackLivesMatter in our city,” the petition read. “It is well known that Temple has been actively gentrifying North Philadelphia for decades, and has expanded its police surveillance beyond campus through its ties with Philadelphia Police.”

Wingard was joined by Provost JoAnne A. Epps and Chief Operating Officer Kevin G. Clark in a lengthy statement pushing back on the idea.

“We do not believe that [severing all ties with Philadelphia police] would be in the best interest of Temple students, faculty and staff, and our neighbors in the surrounding community,” they said.

“Shared responsibilities and patrols among the Temple Police Department, our Allied Universal security partners and the Philadelphia Police Department help keep us safe by providing effective layers of service and protection for the Temple community and residents in nearby neighborhoods.”

The Change.org petition and subsequent rebuff from the University came before the decision to stop making donations to the Philadelphia Police Foundation, but the original petition also highlighted that link.

“It is time to say it loud and clear that we as students, alumni and residents of Philadelphia firmly oppose Temple’s active participation in militarizing our police force. #DefundthePolice”, the petition said.

Meanwhile, police identified 17-year-old Latif Williams as a suspect in Collington’s murder. Williams turned himself in to police.

Court records show that he was charged with five felony counts related to an alleged carjacking in July.

Those charges were later withdrawn.

“[A] key witness for the Commonwealth did not appear in court, forcing our office to withdraw the case at that time. That incident, which took place in August, remains under active investigation, and our office continues to pursue accountability for that crime,” a spokesperson for the Philadelphia district attorney’s office said, according to ABC6.

The university is holding a community hearing at 5 p.m. Thursday to discuss safety issues.

The debate over how to provide the necessary security to the campus comes as Philadelphia crossed the mark of 500 homicides in a year on Thanksgiving. The city had only previously reached that mark one other time since the statistic has been kept since 1960.

As of Dec, 7, the Philadelphia Police crime statistics page showed that the city now counts 523 homicides this year.

This article first appeared in Broad and Liberty.