‘You have a voice’: Young Philly writers take a stand against gun violence

Diamond McClain, 17, testifies about her experience with violence in her community. She hopes to open a resource center for women and girls to come and receive help with difficult issues in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Diamond McClain, 17, testifies about her experience with violence in her community. She hopes to open a resource center for women and girls to come and receive help with difficult issues in West Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

As Philadelphia’s homicide rate has soared to a seven-year high, one after-school program is giving Philly students a voice to speak out against gun violence, many of whom have been affected by the issue firsthand.

Members of Mighty Writers have produced an original Anti-Violence booklet containing student writings about how violence has affected them and their communities.

Mighty Writers ask questions to officials on the MightyFest 2019 Anti-Violence Initiative panel. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Nia Peterson, a student at Masterman School in Spring Garden, says it is important for young people to have a voice because gun violence isn’t unique to her generation.

“The issue, it’s generational. It keeps coming back,” Peterson said. “So then, the people who are fighting this issue and the actual action of solving it, also needs to be generational.”

The booklets were presented to Philadelphia city officials and state lawmakers, including area Reps. Donna Bullock and Movita Johnson-Harrell, who also participated in a panel during which Mighty Writers members questioned them about their efforts to curb gun violence in the city.

(From left) Ade Fuqua, former Chief of Staff of the Office of the Managing Director of Philadelphia, Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, 190th, Councilman Curtis Jones, Roi LIgon Jr., Safe Schools Advocate for Philadelphia, and Rep. Donna Bullock, 195th district, participate in the MightyFest 2019 Anti-Violence Initiative. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

This year, more than 250 Philadelphians have lost their lives due to violent crime, and the city’s homicide rate is the highest it’s been since 2012.

One out of every 10 gunshot victims in Philadelphia is a teenager.

Some of the students held back tears detailing their experiences with gun violence and their perceived powerlessness to deal with the threatening, multifaceted problem at such a young age.

Two Mighty Writers hold hands during a difficult moment at the MightyFest 2019 Anti-Violence Initiative. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

Abigail Chang, a student at The City School at Poplar, described working with two children in Philadelphia who are already conditioned to think gun violence in the city is normal.

“They were having an argument and one of them turned to the other and said, ‘If I had a gun, I’d shoot you,’” she said. “I couldn’t believe they talk to each other like that at such a young age. It’s really, really sad.”

Bintou Fofana, a senior at Upper Merion High School, says more people should listen to what young people have to say about gun violence.

“It’s affecting young people the most. Young people are the future and they’re going to be living in that generation; they’re living in this era,” Fofana said. “So if they have a voice, they can say, ‘This is our problem and this is how it needs to be solved.’”

Both the Mighty Writers and the members of the panel discussed ways to provide better access to mental health resources for those who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

Shamsa Belgrave, a home-schooled student in Philadelphia, says city officials should provide those resources.

Shamsa Belgrave, 14, talked about her first-hand experiences with violence in Philadelphia at the MightyFest 2019 Anti-Violence Initiative. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“People who help run Philadelphia, they should provide more resources, more education on things you can do as an alternative to these issues,” Belgrave says. “Provide classes to help people with PTSD who are suffering from these crimes that are committed by people every day.”

The Mighty Writers booklet contains resources for Philadelphians affected by gun violence, personal stories from students, and gun violence research.

Celestine Adjaglo, a student at Academy at Palumbo in Queen Village, says it’s up to her generation to end the epidemic of gun violence.

Celestine Adjaglo, 14, recounts an experience she had witnessing a shooting with her family outside their church. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

“Children have a voice. You have a voice. Let’s use our voice to do something better. Let’s do more than saying nothing. If you see something going on, say something,” Adjaglo says. “Let’s make Philly better.”

The Mighty Writers hope to have copies of their Anti-Violence Booklet in every high school in Philadelphia.

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