This story is from Stop and Frisk, a podcast production from WHYY News and Temple University’s Logan Center for Urban Investigative Reporting
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For Tyrique Glasgow, stopping gun violence starts with small offerings: a free clothing rack on the corner of Tasker and 27th streets, a basketball hoop on Etting street, and a community garden down the block.
“When you turn a corner, and you can see paintings and a garden, fruits and vegetables, it’s a positive image,” he said.
The new Tynirah Borum Community Garden sprouted from a vacant lot, in an area once covered with trash and illegally dumped debris and appliances.
“It gives our community a chance of seeing a different growth.”
At 39, Glasgow has become a leader in his Grays Ferry neighborhood of South Philadelphia. It’s one of many areas of Philly grappling with the aftermath of historic redlining and disinvestment in public spaces, some of which are also hot spots for shootings.
As gun homicides have risen citywide, the 17th police district where Grays Ferry sits has actually seen a dip in gun violence – there have been 34 fatal and nonfatal shootings there this year compared to 66 in 2020, according to data from the city’s Office of the Controller.
Glasgow, who got into community organizing after returning home from prison in 2011, believes reducing gun violence takes many people doing their part, one step at a time.
“We all like pizza, but you don’t eat the whole pizza at once,” he said. “I’m taking this slice by slice and hopefully day by day I get better.”
His nonprofit, the Young Chances Foundation, just celebrated its 10-year anniversary and Glasgow has been nominated for a CNN Heroes award. CNN describes him as going “from drug dealer to community healer.”
WHYY sat down with Glasgow to ask what’s working.
Note: The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You do a lot of mentorship, and a lot of connecting with young people. Tell me about that.
Mentorship is a delicate thing because, you know, trauma exists and you don’t want to play with peoples’ emotions and how they’re coping with some of the violence or the poverty and the long-term trauma that has been happening. For me it’s really been the face of being consistent when you talk to the young men and you give them that support that you’re not playing both sides. Like if you tell them that, you give them your word, that’s all you have.
I’m like, ‘what are you doing out there?’ And I was saying, ‘you’re 16. How about going in at 8 pm? So you can read, you can clean, you could get your stuff ready … you know, it’s only three eights in a day – sleep eight, work eight, play for eight… you can do those things that make you a balanced person where you don’t have to be 24/7 screaming, running around, jumping around. Balance some stuff out, and you have some ingredients to be a better person.
How do you use law enforcement as a resource?
They have a lot of, you know, ingredients and things that you can have, like the PDAC, which is the Police Department Advisory [Commission], that really supports initiatives through organizations in their community. And you talk about the PSA, which is the police service area and they have officers and individuals who target crime, but also prevention tactics … To help with victim assistance funds, to help some of the family members who may have injuries that need support financially. Helping with some of the distribution or transportation of food to some of the senior homes in a neighborhood. It really helps to not only see our community organization, but the police officers as a different asset, because they’re not just called for trouble. They’re called for solutions and answers in our community.
I had a conversation with the commanding officer to put a small basketball court in the middle of Etting Street to offset just from the rec center being down, and the support was there … to have that engagement with the officers, to watch them and to provide that safe place, because even for the young kids, the older teens and young men, they need somewhere to play and be safe too.
How can other neighborhoods replicate what you’re doing?
Don’t point the finger at some of the problems. Figure out what you can do to best support your community. Maybe it’s through just hosting information sessions or bridging collaborations with your local police departments, education centers and senior homes. Or thinking outside of the box. You know, the garden was one of them, but also doing food giveaways, clothing giveaways, talking to the young men and women in the community. A lot of initiatives are around young men, but like the young lady said, there is a lot of interest and initiatives that young women need to be a part of too.
You can vote for Tyrique Glasgow in the CNN Heroes Award contest here, through Dec. 6th.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources online.