About 50 people gathered in a small parking lot on the corner of 23rd and Diamond streets Saturday to end gun violence in a community that has seen four murders in as many months.
Alfonso Glenn, 53, spent a month organizing and garnering support for the rally. Glenn, president of the Raymond Rosen Council, garnered the support of 12 organizations including Philadelphia CeaseFire, an initiative funded by the Lewis Katz School of Medicine.
“We have to change the mindset of people,” he said. “Instead of trying to resolve a problem, people are picking up a gun.”
John Solomon was one of those people. In 2011, the 23-year-old was sentenced to four years in prison for shooting someone. Almost seven months ago, Solomon was released and has spent that time trying to make a difference in his community.
“It’s not enough for me to turn my life around, I have to change others too,” he said. “I can’t make a move without thinking of the people I’m affecting.”
“We’re here because of the increasing number of gun victims,” said Kimberly Hilton, secretary of the Raymond Rosen Council. “This is to build community awareness. We’ve had four murders in three months.
Community members, Philadelphia and Housing Authority police, members of Philadelphia CeaseFire, politicians and religious leaders made up the small crowd across the street from the Raymond Rosen Community Center.
They marched through the streets surrounding the Raymond Rosen Manor housing development, holding megaphones and a long, homemade banner. Police cars flanked the crowd and blocked traffic while they marched.
Rhythmic cries of “Stop the violence, increase the peace” and “Put the gun down” bounced off the houses they passed. People stood in their doorways or windows, nodding in agreement and taking papers handed to them by rally-goers.
Melzonia Scott, 61, lives on the 2300 block of West Glenwood Avenue and stood in her front yard watching the rally go by. A few months earlier, someone had been shot outside her front gate.
“I have 24 grandkids and I’m scared to let them play outside,” she said. Scott sells sweets from her home, and neighborhood children know her as “Miss Cookie.”
When the march returned to the community center, community leaders at the rally passed around a microphone and galvanized a need for change in the community.
State Representative Donna Bullock said poor education and little opportunity is the root of violence. There are few jobs to start with, she said, and people with records have an even harder time finding work, so they go back to the streets.
“I tell my son, you deserve a good education, and so do all the other kids in the playground,” she told the crowd. Candidate for State Senator Sharif Street agreed, and added inspiring young people would set the change in motion.
Former judge Jimmie Moore, who is currently running for state representative, said a people can go from having a difficult and criminal past to a life of success, as he did. “But they have to be alive to get it done,” he said.
“Just because we are a different religion does not mean we cannot feel your pain,” said Student Minister Lamond Muhammad of Mosque 12 on Broad Street. “We must make our places a good place to live, and we can do that by seeing our brothers and sisters as a part of ourselves.”
Dr. Branville Bard, the Philadelphia Housing Authority Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety, emphasized the need for more rallies.
“We need more of what we’re doing here, and less of why we’re here,” he said. “We need to make a pact: Today, this is just the start of it.”
“I don’t want to make this a one-hitter-quitter,” Glenn said. “People feel a high spirit the day before, the day of, and the day after something like this, but then it fizzles out. That can’t happen.”
Glenn added he plans to organize a similar rally next month, and hopes to get more people in the community involved.
Julie Christie can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ChristieJules.