“I see myself as a as a servant,” says Cory Long.
He is executive director of Making a Change Group. The Chester-based non-profit serves more than 180 people, providing youth empowerment, family services and community connections. They provide recreational and mentoring services and support to strengthen families. Long views their work as the foundation to gun violence prevention.
“A large part of preventing violence is preventative programs,” he says, “reaching young people in after school programs and mentoring programs, getting them around other positive role models and individuals when they’re seven eight, nine 10.”
Long’s work began more than 15 years ago, in large part because he saw a need.
“Just the lack of black role models here in my community,” he says.
He stepped up mentoring more than dozen young people. He called the effort “Team M.A.C.” for “making a change.” Why? Well, Long saw himself in many of the young people he served. After all, he had to change himself.
“Either I was in music or I was involved with with drugs — selling drugs,” says Long, when referring to his teenage years and twenties.
Long says his mother had him while she was in college, so his grandparents raised him in Chester. While his grandfather was a role model, he says he connected more with the young men on his block. And every day he saw them selling drugs on the corner.
“I kind of idolized it,” he says.
In the 90s and early 2000s, Long was also known in the community as DJ Cory Ak.
His mix-tapes were popular among youth, and even then, kids looked up to him. But Long says street beefs, run-ins with the law and the responsibility of raising his daughter, who was 10 years old at the time, forced him to change. He says he began to see what was happening in his own community.
“I saw a lot of young young people just making choices because they just didn’t have guidance,” he says.
Thanks to his faith and a host of mentors, he decided to become someone young people could look up to.
“You can’t, guide the youth if you can’t talk to [insert] them.” says Saj “Purple” Blackwell, who is an activist and owns PQ1Radio in West Philadelphia. She is also part of WHYY’s News & Information Community Exchange.
“I’ve known Cory for over 25 years, and in those 25 years that I’ve known him whether it be from the music things are now to community, he has been a change maker,” she says.
The change began in 2004 with Team MAC. Pretty soon, Long was working for the City of Chester as the Violence Coordinator. He was there in 2010 with the Mayor imposed a state of emergency due to the gun violence plaguing the small city.
“You just rarely saw a broad daylight murder here in the community, and that was happening- we saw like four of them in one week,” says Long.
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chester’s homicide rate averaged 53 a year between 2000 and 2014, outranking all U.S cities in that span. The rate for the four square mile city was double that of Philadelphia.
MACG’s anti-violence efforts have been working. And thanks to law enforcement, social services, other Delaware County community groups and neighborhood leaders, Chester’s murder rate is 63 percent lower than it was in 2020.
“We are all figuring it out,” says Long, “and there’s more of us that are in sync than are not in sync and that’s a huge part of it.”
But Long’s work goes beyond MACG.
“He’s incredibly responsive to the community,” says Kim Schmucki, who began volunteering as a fundraiser for MACG about a year and a half ago. She nominated Long for the Good Souls Project after witnessing his dedication first hand.
“He just emanates like love and positivity and empowerment and connection,” says Schmucki, “he’s all in, all the time and still manages to take care of his family.”
For Long, who’s married and now, a father of four, the work is his calling:
“I’m anchored by my faith in Christ, my faith in Christ,” he says, “so this is something I do willingly…and have embraced.”