FBI and Strawberry Mansion residents unite at annual softball event

When it comes to the annual “Step Up to the Plate to Strike Out Violence” event in Strawberry Mansion, clear evidence of why community volunteers and the FBI work together to make the Mander Playground event a reality always seems to arise.

As the inaugural 2007 game was being played, 11 shell casings littered the intersection a block away after a man had been shot twice in the head and driven to the hospital by his girlfriend.

Four years later, within days of the gathering, a resident who went to the playground to defend his son who had gotten into a fight was shot and killed.

The night before Wednesday’s event, a 13-year-old boy and his 17-year-old brother were shot and killed at their Overbrook home in what appears to be a drug-connected crime.

Providing positive outlets

Strawberry Mansion All-Stars founder Derrick Ford mentioned that last incident when asked about the importance of events like this, which put residents of troubled neighborhoods in personal contact with law enforcement for fun-and-games, not crime-and-death.

“This game [is held] to reduce some of the tension in the community but, more than anything, to kill the stigma of how inner-city kids look at law enforcement,” Ford said, citing the scene that brought youths, parents, police, city officials and the FBI together. “But again, we have to do more than what we’re doing here today, to eliminate, eradicate the violence going on in the city of Philadelphia.”

“Real talking” that much of the bloodshed is “black-on-black crime,” Ford said it’s incumbent upon volunteers like himself to show youths that there’s more to life than the violent streets they see around them.

FBI Special Agent J.J. Klaver concurred, saying that his peers look forward to the annual event in Strawberry Mansion, a North Philadelphia neighborhood near Allegheny West and East Falls.

He noted that “the event is part of the FBI’s outreach efforts in its Step Up Speak Up campaign to proactively address violence within our communities. [It] is an outreach program aimed at encouraging citizens to cooperate and provide information to law enforcement in order to reduce community-wide fear and intimidation that results from escalating violence.

“Law enforcement agencies at all levels must recognize and support community groups interested in reclaiming ownership of and safety in their neighborhoods, and members of the community must trust and have access to the law enforcement organizations that serve them.”

The box score

The games themselves had been traditionally hard fought, close contests. But not Wednesday’s. Each year, the FBI “secret weapon” Sharonda Williams’ smack talk from the sidelines was met with boisterous retorts.

On Wednesday, however, with the FBI leading “a lot to a little” in the words of one special agent/player, the Strawberry Mansion dugout was reserved.

Said Ford, “They threw down the scorebook when we were down 24-3 in the fifth inning.”

The blowout did not tamp down a hearty post-game handshake line when Strawberry Mansion’s players conceded horrible defeat but vowed to return stronger for the 7th annual event next summer.

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