As shootings rise, celebrating life with ‘empowering’ water gun fight in Fairmount Park

Families from across Philadelphia came to Fairmount Park to participate in the Water Fight Philly event on Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Families from across Philadelphia came to Fairmount Park to participate in the Water Fight Philly event on Sunday, June 30, 2019. (Kriston Jae Bethel for WHYY)

Upwards of 60 people at a time showed up to run around and cool off on a warm last day of June for Water Fight Philly, a large-scale water gun battle held in Fairmount Park, not far from the Please Touch Museum. Through the chaos, alliances were formed (and promptly broken) between different parties teaming up to see who could do the most soaking.

The event was organized by Gabriel Nyantakyi, who started Waterarms Over Firearms in hopes of redefining guns at a time when shootings dominate the headlines in Philadelphia and across the country. Just two weeks ago, there were 23 shootings in a single weekend in the city, including one where a gunman opened fire on a graduation party, leaving one man dead and five injured.

“It’s a gun that shoots water, the thing that’s the essence of life. There’s a poetry there, a message of hope, that I wanted to share,” Nyantakyi told WHYY last year.

The West Philadelphia resident — who is such a big fan of Super Soakers, he has one tattooed on his stomach — said on the group’s Facebook page that the goal of events like this one is to be “a joyous celebration of life” and to give people space “to heal.”

It was also part of an effort to bring the “guns down, water guns up” movement — which has become popular in places like Georgia — to Philadelphia.

LaKesha Anderson finished filling up a large, two-barrel water gun, before testing it and handing it off to her eight-year-old son, Cameron. Anderson, who lives in Upper Darby, came to the event hoping it could be part of the solution in “putting a stop to the actual gun violence.”

Nicole Johnson has felt the impact of losing loved ones, having lost nine friends between gun violence and the opioid epidemic.

She brought her daughter to the water fight, along with her brother’s children, to enjoy a day of fun in the heat. 

“I thought it was really empowering,” Johnson said. “As soon as I heard about it, I went out and got water guns.”

For now, she says, her three-year-old daughter isn’t old enough to understand that kind of loss and there’s still hope she may not.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.