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HOWELL: To Stop Philadelphia Violence, Mentors Need to Step Up for Troubled Youth

Our city of Philadelphia is known to be called “Killadelphia,” a slang reference to the city of Brotherly Love due to its high murder rate. That is not a good name to be known by in our 2020 decade era. Our politicians have to do way more to change Philadelphia’s narrative and reputation as one of the most dangerous cities in America.

I agree with Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker’s 100-day action plan focusing on public safety, clean and green, housing, economic opportunity, education, and roundtables (business, faith-based, and intergovernmental). More specifically, hiring 300 additional foot and bike patrol officers to walk a beat in every neighborhood of the city, getting to know the community they’re sworn to protect and serve without any tolerance for misuse or abuse of their power.

But still, to this day, almost every day, a shooting is reported in our city of Philadelphia, and it is astounding that this still happens today compared to the 1990s to now. It is also not just Philadelphia. It is our surrounding Delaware Valley, including Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.

The crime rate seems to be increasing due to what is being reported in the news media lately, such as juvenile thefts, drug possession, gun possession, and domestic violence. The drug epidemic, including opioids plus fentanyl, we as civilians in Pennsylvania are all witnessing is entirely out of control. Even our youth starting at such a young age with vapes and electronic cigarettes is disappointing. Smoking does not have to be the only way to relieve stress and try to escape reality.

More funds must be allocated to our police departments across southeastern Pennsylvania to provide more resources to stop this lawbreaking. Focusing on the youth, they need more attention than ever before. When youth are out on the streets committing crimes, shooting, robbing, and selling drugs, all they need is just more in-depth mentorship.

There are plenty of leaders who are of color who can be mentors to all these troubled youth. But the youth have to listen to them. Patience is the key. In this era we live in now, we are trying too hard to be competitive, and social media attention is ridiculous.

There are a lot of organizations out there that are already doing so, but more needs to be emphasized. More constructive solutions from all organizations providing youth mentors need to be established.

In my perspective, if you take guns out of homes, then the murder rate will go down substantially.

House Bill 777 will help significantly with gun violence. On January 17, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee approved putting the bill in place. The bill closes a loophole in state law to prohibit the production or sale of “ghost gun” components. Either sold separately or in kits that are easily accessed and assembled to make a gun, these parts lack serial numbers and are untraceable in future investigations. Ghost guns are a way for people who are not legally allowed to possess a firearm to evade detection and background checks. Our civilians have to stop this senseless violence crisis.

Making Philadelphia the safest, cleanest, and greenest big city in the nation, with economic opportunity for all, has not been nearly done yet. Many would agree, especially in our senior citizen age range, that nothing changed in Southeastern Pennsylvania. Technology has advanced through the years, but the crime rate is still rising.

Lastly, there needs to be more resources for mental health services. With all this gun violence going on, schools, jobs, and all religious establishments should offer more mental healthcare options because you never know what is going on with someone. There is a lot of divide in America nowadays due to most citizens’ political views. This anger has to stop, and only our police forces and politicians can do that.

It is a shame that generation after generation is experiencing crime and gun violence at such a high level. It is a continuous toxic cycle we are experiencing with crime, drugs, and gun violence, and it needs to be put to an end. But some of us still believe that some things will never change.

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Lower Merion Police Square Off on the Basketball Court With Teens

“On Sunday evening a  group of teens gathered in the City of Chester to celebrate the holiday weekend and the end of the school year,” said Delaware County DA Jack Stollsteimer. “Unfortunately, the presence of guns in the crowd turned this gathering into a chaotic and dangerous event. At this point, one juvenile is in critical condition, and five more have non-life threatening injuries. We know at least three guns were fired and over 50 shell casings have been recovered.”

The Race for Peace Committee works to stop events like this before they begin by bringing police officers and the community together. On May 19th the Lower Merion Police Department officers played basketball with local youth to strengthen community bonds. Police and youth at Lower Merion High School Kobe Bryant Gymnasium took off their badges and laced up their sneakers Friday night to play a friendly game of basketball with some of the local youth.

For the eighth straight year, the Race for Peace Committee(RFPC) has organized the basketball game as a good-willed effort to strengthen community ties between police and the youth. The RFPC, made up of law enforcement promoting peace, uses their goals of Communication, understanding, and trust to motivate them to promote peace.

“We greatly appreciate everyone who attended and participated in our basketball event! I believe and support our Race for Peace motto which is that communication, understanding, and trust are forged during times of peace. Not during times of conflict and stress,” said RFPC founder Andrew Howell.

Alim Howell added, “It is a good thing that youth based events are being held consistently especially in today’s times. Citizens may have a different perspective of the police but promoting positivity with police is a solid action.”

He blamed social media for increasing the pressure on teenagers to take part in unsafe or violent activity. “Especially nowadays, with the Millennials and Gen Z, stuff is just so violent, and you would think with social media, with Snapchat, Insta[gram] and TikTok, you would think our youth would be better with less violence and less chaos.”

As for the results, Howell added “when parents and youth leave our event, they are smiling, and they have had a good time with the police officers.”

The goal is to keep brotherhood in the Delaware Valley going, and changing views that young people have about police one shot, one rebound at a time. Other events include  Bike Tours, Summits, and Open Forums, all dedicated to creating and fostering enthusiasm and empathy in the community.

“A lot of times we have interactions with people, it’s usually in a professional capacity, a lot of times we’re dealing with people on their worse days,” said Lower Merion Police Lieutenant Shawn Clifford. “When we have an opportunity to come out here and take the uniform off and have a bonding experience where it’s not so much us doing our job, just hanging out playing sports, I think it has a longer lasting effect.”

“During the interviews the kids seem like they have a good time,” said Andrew Howell.
“And while we can’t help what happens outside of a small organization, when the parents and youth leave, they leave with a smile.”

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Sowing the Seeds of Peace One Relationship at a Time

From a press release

Making peace comes from relationships.

On September 14thNorristown Fire Department Chief Thomas O’Donnell and Urban Navigation Founder Don Jackson met at the Montgomery Hose Fire Station. The meeting was held to discuss the violence happening throughout Montgomery County and Philadelphia that has taken the lives of so many young people and what can be done to help. They also brainstormed ideas on how to get more youth involved with Urban Navigation and local fire departments.

“I understand completely about the violence plus crime crisis happening throughout our county and our City of Philadelphia. Hopefully, it gets better in the future,”  O’Donnell said.

Urban Navigation provides experiences and training with the youth. Technical skills, entrepreneurial mentorship, life skills training, additionally providing mentorship and guidance to ATV/dirt bike riders.

Experiences through Urban Navigation are going on to local streets giving information to all youth about their lives not being in jeopardy. Showcasing youth with no guns or criminal activity actions being involved. Training and mentorship can  also be provided at  Billy Penn Studios.

This studio accommodates a platform for creative minds. Such as having podcasts, office space, media music studio, virtual reality facility, or rest area. The purpose of Urban Navigation is for people who want to make changes. Urban Navigation is a haven for all youth no matter the gender.

The mission of the Norristown Fire Department is to save lives and protect property through prevention, preparedness, education and response. The department also has a Junior Firefighter Program. The program allows young men and women to become firefighters at the age of 16. The department welcomes those of all ages that are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter or who are willing to assist with administrative duties.

“The meeting was a productive meeting, mainly trying to compare all the issues that happen in Norristown and Philadelphia. Outcome is that all counties can benefit from Urban Navigation. Firefighters and the youth should collaborate more often. Either through school visitation or at events. The big picture is that the youth would appreciate the outreach in the long haul,” said Jackson.

“Having the Fire Department involved with youth is a good thing. Firefighters can bring a different perspective plus approach for community outreach. When I see firefighters and youth engaging with one another at events it is a good time. Fire Departments and Police Departments together as one unit have an even stronger impact to leave a positive impression on our youth” said Alim Howell,  Urban Navigation liaison.

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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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