Rally against gun violence gives young Philadelphians access to lawmakers and resources

Poets, speakers, and civic leaders encouraged young people to get involved, including sending letters to area lawmakers.

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Montae Dawson played drums with the drill team

Montae Dawson played drums with the drill team. ''Personally, I think violence starts with someone's upbringing,'' he said. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

This story is a part of the Every Voice, Every Vote series.

Working on a solution to gun violence and want to share it? Get in touch with gun violence prevention reporters Sammy Caiola and Sam Searles.

An anti violence rally energized young Philadelphians as civic leaders addressed the city’s gun violence crisis yesterday.

The rally, which was held outside the Municipal Services building on JFK Boulevard, followed the second annual March Against Gun Violence and included speakers, poets, and community leaders.

Aziyrah The Poet performs at the rally
Aziyrah The Poet performs at the rally. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Akhenaton Mikell, founder of Imani Star, a youth development group that works with Philadelphians mostly between ages 7 and 17, wants to see an end to the city’s gun crisis.

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“We’ve all in some capacity [been] impacted by gun violence,” he said. “[Imani Star] and the Beloved Care Project, along with Forget Me Knot, decided to sit down and really put our heads together, and we figured out the fact that the youth are actually the ones with the answers.”

Akhenaton Mikell leads Imani Star Development
Akhenaton Mikell leads Imani Star Development. ”We just need to take the time to continue to engage [young people] and also to listen to some of the suggestions that they have – the answers right there,” he said. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

Ahead of the rally, teens working with Imani Star shared their opinions about Philly’s gun crisis and sent letters to area lawmakers. Several were read during the rally.

An older man holding a microphone for a teenager at a rally
Khalif Mujahid-Ali of the Beloved Care Project holds the mic for a youth participant at the rally. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

“We asked [participants] questions about what’s going on in the community,” said Mikel. “We asked them what was some of the things that were affecting them, and they started blurting out answers. We stopped them mid-stream and we pulled out paper and said, ‘You know what? Write your thoughts about how you feel and how you’ll make an effect on these papers’. The children wrote the papers, they submitted them to us, and then we made copies and sent them to all of the city politicians and local leaders so that they could hear from them, versus hearing from us.”

Letters from Imani Star Development’s young people. (Courtesy of Akhenaton Mikel)

Montae Dawson watched performers and speakers on the stage across the street from City Hall. He said gun violence is made worse by adults that enable bad decisions.

“Personally, I think violence just starts with someone’s upbringing. If a kid’s sitting around all day and they see something, that’s going to get attached to their mind, and then when they get older, they’re going to be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do the same thing.’”

Posters featuring the faces of people lost to violence flank the rally stage
Posters featuring the faces of people lost to violence flank the rally stage. (Sam Searles/WHYY)
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Eleven-year-old Mei-xing said community action like the march and rally make them hopeful for the future.

“It’s hard for our community, especially with gun violence. I feel bad for our people; all the families who are losing their loved ones,” they said, standing near a row of posters featuring the faces of gun violence victims. “I feel like since we were marching, we could stop that.”

If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.

This story is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. Learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters here.

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