Community leaders from Philadelphia’s most violent neighborhoods met Monday for a symposium they called “Rebuilding the Village.”
The idea was to brainstorm and share the best strategies for preventing violent crime with a special focus on the struggles of young, black males in the city.
West Oak Lane’s Victor Jackson knows that demographic. For him, it meant growing up with a feeling of hopelessness.
Bounced around the foster-care system, he often felt alone and invisible.
“It’s purgatory. It’s nowhere and somewhere at the same time,” said Jackson. “It was like we existed, but only to the people that was in our lives.”
Jackson’s most consistent role model was his older brother — a high school dropout.
After watching his brother fall through the cracks in the system, Jackson started to feel like he would do the same.
“I walk in Germantown High School, I see white brick. I see bars on the windows,” Jackson said. “I went to Germantown every day and I felt like I was in a prison.”
Things got pretty dark during those early high school years.
“I got to a certain point where it was just like I was going to commit suicide because things were too rough,” he recalled. “I couldn’t understand why this had to be.”
Eventually, Jackson found stability with a new foster family, and a transfer to Imhotep Charter. There, he was encouraged to develop his artistic voice.
Before an audience of community leaders at the symposium Monday, he used that voice to recite his open letter to the city.
“Philly, I should have wrote this poem years ago — telling you about the beat of your streets, the warmness of your concrete , the tone — as if the skyline was baby-sitting your existence. I’ve never felt so loved and hated at the same time,” Jackson said in an excerpt from his poem.
Jackson will attend the City University of New York next fall. In the meantime, he wants to be a link between potentially violent black youth and the leaders who seek to help them.
The daylong symposium is the first of many events like it, funded both by the Casey Family Program and the Department of Justice.
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter hopes the event will spur the type of community-involved parenting that he says played a major part in raising him.
“It is the epitome of the African proverb that it really does take a village to raise a child,” said Nutter. “And every child is part of a larger community.”