A coalition of Christian church leaders and anti-violence activists have come together to interrupt the cycle of violence in Philadelphia. Part of the effort will take place this Father’s Day, as the group brings resources to street corners impacted by gun violence in Nicetown, Tioga and North and Northwest sections of Philadelphia.
“We are engaging with individuals on those corners, along those corridors, and we’re bringing employment resources, trauma care resources, faith based resources,” said G. Lamar Stewart, senior pastor of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church and founder of TaylorMADE Opportunities, during an interview with WHYY Host Cherri Gregg. “We’re bringing prayer, hope, love, compassion and opportunities and connections to those neighborhoods.
Stewart is the lead organizer of Corners to Connections, a 30-day gun violence interruption initiative. He says their goal is to take aim at the root causes of gun violence by providing an alternative for individuals most likely to shoot or get shot.
“Poverty is certainly one of those root causes, education is certainly one of those root causes, and housing insecurity is one of those root causes,” says Stewart, “and so we believe that as we begin to address the root causes of violence, we certainly want to interrupt the cycle.”
Stewart relayed a story of a young man engaged on a street corner earlier this month. Instead of using “street methods” to make the money to feed his two children, he picked up the phone and asked for help.
“He said, ‘I’m deciding to reach out to you all since you just gave me your number to see if you can help me,” Stewart explained, “just fill up my refrigerator so I don’t have to make a decision that’s going to put me back in prison,’ and we were able to help that young man in that moment.”
Stewart, a father of three, is a former member of the Philadelphia Police Department. He’s experienced loss due to gun violence and is called to help stop the cycle. He says there’s a misconception that the young Black men caught in the cycle of violence want to be there.
“The stories that we’ve heard as Christian leaders and as advocates over these last several days while being out on the streets is, ‘look, I don’t want to be out here,” says Stewart, “We’ve heard that over and over — that ‘I’m out her [because] I feel like I have no other choice.”
Stewart says the coalition that is hitting the streets wants those on the corners to know that there are options.
“Sometimes people just need help navigating systems and navigating what they feel like are barriers,” he says, “and we’ve come out collectively as a church community, as a Christian community to say, we just want to do our part — and we can see people are hopeful.”
This Sunday, Stewart says the coalition of groups want to bring hope for Father’s Day with a night time peace march.
“We’re calling for 100 fathers to gather and if they’re young men out there, we’re going to spread love and give them words of affirmation, move with the spirit of compassion and just just a level of encouragement to bring some level of light and hope and peace and positivity to to the community as we’re passing through,” says Stewart.
He says women are invited as well, but the focus will be on showing the community that men are present and are calling for peace.
“Just the symbolism of that, just the image of 100 fathers, walking through the community at night, letting our community know that it’s going to be alright,” he says, “I think it is going to be an amazing experience.”
The coalition will gather this Father’s Day, Sunday, June 19, at 8:30 p.m. outside of Taylor Memorial Baptist Church, 3817 Germantown Avenue in Philadelphia. The march will begin at 9 p.m. The group will walk through the neighborhoods and end at Enon Tabernacle Church.
Notably, the Corners to Connections effort will end with a community job and resource fair on June 30, 2022. The job fair will take place at SEPTA’s Olney terminal from 3-5 p.m.