West Philadelphia activists plan to use committee member seats to mobilize neighbors against gun violence

Sajda ''Purple'' Blackwell and her husband Tommy Blackwell are the newest committee people for the 5th division of Philadelphia's 60th ward. The couple says their political run grew out of their gun violence prevention activism and other community organizing in West Philadelphia. (Sammy Caiola/WHYY)

Sajda ''Purple'' Blackwell and her husband Tommy Blackwell are the newest committee people for the 5th division of Philadelphia's 60th ward. The couple says their political run grew out of their gun violence prevention activism and other community organizing in West Philadelphia. (Sammy Caiola/WHYY)

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Gun violence prevention activists Sajda “Purple” Blackwell and her husband Tommy Blackwell are the two newest committee people for the 5th division of Philadelphia’s 60th ward. The husband-wife duo says they’ll use their new positions to empower their West Philly neighbors and continue their work on safety, food insecurity and other issues.

The Blackwell family has been in Philadelphia politics for decades, but this was a first election run for Tommy Blackwell and his wife Sajda Blackwell. They ran four campaigns between the two of them: the committee member race, which they both won, plus Purple’s unsuccessful bid for a state representative seat and Tommy’s race for Democratic State Committee member, which he won.

“We’re fighting already against gun violence. We’re fighting already against poverty,” Purple Blackwell said. “It just made sense to take the next step to be elected officials.”

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The Blackwells already organize West Philadelphia residents for regular safety patrol walks in high-crime areas, a program supported by the city’s Town Watch Integrated Services department. They also run a monthly open mic event for youth, focused on creating music that doesn’t glorify violence, as well as food distribution events for neighbors in need.

Tommy Blackwell said getting out the vote this season also helped them spread the word about those efforts and about other services available to families affected by violence.

“Being engaged with people out here in the streets in West Philadelphia, going to their homes, knocking on doors, you know, giving them valuable information on resources that they may not have known even existed.”

He’s also a community crisis intervention advocate with the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/ Anti-Violence Network.

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Sajda Blackwell said she was most excited by how many young voters and first-time voters they were able to reach because of their relationships in the community.

“We have people who have never, ever in their life before donated to a political campaign,” she said. “We have people who never knew what a committee person was, never knew what a ward person was … now they know what’s going on in their community. They know their voice is power and why they are important.”

The couple said they hope to expand the town watch program, advocate for getting guns off the street and continue encouraging residents to take an active role in combating violence.

“We need to take care of each other,” Tommy Blackwell said. “We need to be a voice for each other. And if we’re not going to get that in Harrisburg, if we’re not going to get that in city hall, if we’re not going to get that in D.C., then we’re going to start making a lot of noise right here.”

Tommy Blackwell will also be running for a ward leader position this June.

Disclosure: Sajda “Purple” Blackwell has worked with WHYY through the News & Information Community Exchange partnership.

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