In a city where nearly 200 people have been killed by a gun this year, a community space was dedicated Saturday to honor their lives, and to raise awareness about gun violence as a public health crisis.
Leaders from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), as well as local and community activist organizations, gathered at the Garden at Karabots – a “lush oasis” located at 48th and Market Streets – for a ceremony to dedicate the space.
CHOP officials say the garden, where benches and a colorful, stained glass sculpture were installed in 2021, is now a space where survivors can visit and reflect.
“So many of our families have experiences of knowing or loving people that have succumbed to violence, and those families are ones we take care of,” said Dr. Joel Fein, a CHOP pediatrician and co-director of the CHOP Center for Violence Prevention.
“We wanted to create a space for them to reflect and have some peace in the middle of their day and bring awareness to the impact of violence,” he said.
In the aftermath of two mass shootings, in Buffalo, New York and Uvalde, Texas, that have sparked national outrage and attention, Fein emphasized that gun violence is something that Philadelphia families deal with “on a daily basis.”
“The larger, unfortunate events, as tragic as they are, can bring awareness to the impact on families, but we already know that. Our center is focused on prevention at every level,” he said.
The Gun Violence Victims Memorial opens during Gun Violence Prevention Month, the day after Gun Violence Awareness Day, during Wear Orange Weekend, and in the midst of a larger national conversation about gun violence. Since the school shooting in Uvalde on May 24, there have been 24 mass shootings, two occurring in Philadelphia.
The memorial sits behind the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center, within a circular garden that provides food for local families. and features seating, a plaque, and a stained glass statue depicting a rainbow. The plaque is etched with a poem and flanked by two small fountains. Some of the seating is in the shape of butterflies, a symbol for those lost to violence.
Speakers from various advocacy groups, many of them victims, survivors, or family members, said the space made them feel “validated,” and some alluded to the presence of the deceased being within the space as well.
MaryPat Scorzetti and Erin Buchner, both from Moms Demand Action, began organizing with CHOP and the National Homicide Justice Alliance to create a memorial space years ago, but due to COVID outbreaks and more setbacks, the project was put on hold.
The idea for the memorial began with a conversation about how best to honor victims, support survivors, and give families a peaceful place to reflect. Partner organiziations involved in the memorial include Mothers in Charge, Every Murder is Real, National Homicide Justice Alliance, and D.I.V.A.S. Ministry Group. Pennsylvania State Senator Anthony Williams and Philadelphia Councilmember Jaime Gauthier also attended Saturday’s memorial dedication.
“We try to be in as many places as people will have us,” said Scorzetti, who joined Moms Demand shortly after the Parkland shooting.
Mass shootings, said Scorzetti, tend to bring in an influx of new members. The Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action has grown by over 12,000 since the Buffalo shooting on May 14 in a grocery store.
“So many people [are] reeling from Uvalde and the 18 other shootings … it elevates people’s recognition that this is a huge problem … the general public doesn’t recognize the daily toll [here],” Scorzetti said.
Scorzetti and Buchner said that partnering with community partners has been vital to raising awareness.
“We’re all affected by gun violence. Lives are changed forever, and that doesn’t talk about the lives of people who love [the victims] … I think this whole country is traumatized right now”, said Scorzetti.
Speakers urged the audience to continue advocacy work and community engagement. Both Moms Demand Action and CHOP are working on preventative measures, including a partnership with the Philadelphia Eagles to create a buyback program, distribute gun locks, and teach gun safety.
“We think in years ahead,” said Fein. “That’s what Pediatrics does. Whenever we give immunizations, it’s sometimes to prevent something right away, but it’s often to prevent something years later, even into adulthood. If we can immunize our children to violence … that would be our goal.”
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.