‘Put away petty grievances’: In West Philadelphia, families of gun violence victims come together for healing and reflection

Rows of T-shirts bearing the name of Philadelphians lost to gun violence are on display with a fence and bushes in the background.

T-shirts bearing the name of Philadelphians lost to gun violence displayed at the Day of Serenity at Clara Muhammad Square, on May 15, 2022, were set up by Movita Johnson. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Tone Barr’s funeral home hasn’t been the same since the start of the pandemic.

Before then, he says he rarely made arrangements for victims of gun violence.

These days, the majority of his customers are families whose loved ones were fatally shot. Many are teenagers — including faces he recognizes from his West Philadelphia neighborhood.

“Our profession is to make money, but it doesn’t sit right with me when I’m burying young kids. When I look at a casket, I see a 13-year-old and a grieving mother who is my age who got to bury her son,” said Barr, funeral director of Garriest Crawley Funeral Home and community liaison director of the Philadelphia Masjid in the Mill Creek section of the city.

Six months ago, as Philadelphia marched toward recording its deadliest year ever, the emotional collateral of Barr’s work caught up with him.

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He had to do something for the Philadelphia residents who have been impacted by gun violence.

On Sunday, with support from grassroots organizations and elected officials, the fruits of that seed were on display during the first-ever “Day of Serenity” — a free all-day event dedicated to peace and healing.

Brandon Chastang (left) and Tone Barr (right) organized the Day of Serenity at Clara Muhammad square in Philadelphia on May 15, 2022.
Brandon Chastang (left) and Tone Barr (right) organized the Day of Serenity at Clara Muhammad square in Philadelphia on May 15, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

The event, organized by the newly-formed community group Philly United As 1, offered residents one-on-one grief counseling, as well as workshops on trauma and forgiveness. An expungement clinic and yoga classes were also on site, along with a carnival for kids, free haircuts, and food.

During a short speaker program, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner encouraged attendees to vote against pro-gun candidates during Tuesday’s primary election. City Councilmember Curtis Jones, who represents parts of West Philly, highlighted the need to teach people conflict-resolution skills.

Community organizations offered resources to Philadelphians to combat gun violence and healing to those affected by it at The Day of Serenity at Clara Muhammad Square, on May 15, 2022.
Community organizations offered resources to Philadelphians to combat gun violence and healing to those affected by it at The Day of Serenity at Clara Muhammad Square, on May 15, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

For Barr, the goal of the day was fostering solidarity.

“Put away petty grievances. Put away petty beefs. And come together and share resources,” Barr said.

Khayriyyah Murray almost skipped the event, held at the Philadelphia Masjid.

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Since her 24-year-old son was fatally shot at a gas station in March, she’s avoided situations that would put her around a lot of people. She only recently returned to her nursing job for that reason.

But sitting inside the Masjid on Sunday, Murray said she was grateful that her friend pushed her to make the trek from North Philly. Talking to other mothers who have lost children to gun violence made her feel less alone and a little more hopeful about the future.

“I have a wonderful support system. My family has not left my side, and friends have not left my side since. But when strangers come along and do that, it’s different. It’s like a motherhood, a sisterhood. They know what you’re going through,” Murray said.

Khayriyyah Murray (left), a nurse, lost her 24 year-old son in March of this year, said being around other mothers who’ve lost children to gun violence helps her heal. She met author Kimberly Kamara at the Day of Serenity in Philadelphia on May 15, 2022.
Khayriyyah Murray (left), a nurse, lost her 24 year-old son in March of this year, said being around other mothers who’ve lost children to gun violence helps her heal. She met author Kimberly Kamara at the Day of Serenity in Philadelphia on May 15, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Deborah Kelly came to discuss –– and sell –– the two-dozen lessons contained in a book she wrote about parenting. All of them are rooted in one objective: saving lives.

Kelly said that starts at home with the relationships parents have with their children.

“There is nothing wrong with telling your child that you love them and your eyes lighting up when they walk in the room. That’s the way it should be. But we think, ‘Oh, you’re going to spoil that child. You can’t spoil that child by showing them love.’ That’s what they need,” said Kelly, a certified parenting educator who grew up in Germantown.

Deborah Kelly, a certified parent educator and retired teacher, holds her book The Turnaround at Clara Muhammad square on May 15, 2022.
Deborah Kelly, a certified parent educator and retired teacher, holds her book The Turnaround at Clara Muhammad square on May 15, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Ivy Johnson, a staffer at Why Not Prosper, nodded along in agreement as Kelly spoke. She said communities must also  come together and stand against gun violence.

It’s unacceptable, she said, to view the current level of violence as the norm.

“It’s not normal that we live in a warzone,” said Johnson, whose organization works to stop shootings from happening in the first place through the use of mediation.

“Every neighborhood is your neighborhood. You are responsible for every child that walks this street, I don’t care where you’re at,” she added.

Ivy Johnson (left), founder of SWAG, Sisters With A Goal, an organization in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood that offers mediation for conflict resolution, with former Pa. State Rep. Movita Johnson  (right) at the Day of Serenity on May 15, 2022.
Ivy Johnson (left), founder of SWAG, Sisters With A Goal, an organization in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood that offers mediation for conflict resolution, with former Pa. State Rep. Movita Johnson (right) at the Day of Serenity on May 15, 2022. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Roughly two hours before the start of Sunday’s event, a 41-year-old man was shot on the 1600 block of Rowan Street in the Nicetown section of North Philadelphia. He was listed in stable condition at Temple University Hospital.

To date, Philadelphia has recorded 171 murders, a 12% decrease compared to the same time last year. The overwhelming majority are victims of gun violence.

More than 750 people have been shot so far this year.

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

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