Two summers ago, while out doing some history research for one of his professors, University of Pennsylvania student Dan Kurland was hospitalized for heat exhaustion. He remembers it vividly. Not because of his diagnosis, but because of what happened in the midst of his emergency room heart examination.
“I saw a young man being wheeled in and he had multiple gunshot wounds,” Kurland said.
A single curtain separated Kurland and the young man, who ended up passing away during emergency surgery. He was surrounded by family and friends. Kurland said the experience was harrowing.
“It showed me for the first time the damage that gun violence does,” he said. “It really, really hurts people.”
Fast forward to spring 2014. Still reeling from the overwhelming experience of being in the same room as a fatally-wounded young man, Kurland decided to look into gun violence in North Philadelphia for a class assignment. He remembers interviewing a mother and her child in a homeless shelter. The child was quick to speak up.
“One day he was walking home from school and saw a young man being shot. [The victim] ended up dying in his mother’s arms,” Kurland said. “As the child was telling this story, his face paled. It was obviously very painful for him to relay this experience.”
WTLP’s objective is to serve as a platform for Philadelphians personally affected by gun violence, on their terms and in their voices, to help their healing through the externalization of their pain. The site launched mid-February, after raising $120 via crowdfunding to support itself, but has been in the works since October 2014.
“We want to bring these stories home to people who are not exposed to gun violence,” Kurland said. “We want to humanize this problem. We want to get people talking about it.”
Local media can’t cover every instance of gun violence in the city.
Jim MacMillan, founder and editor of GunCrisis.org (which aimed to cover every instance of gun violence in the city), said Where’s the Love, Philadelphia? meets his belief in journalism as a theory of change, by “making the consumer better understand and hopefully care about our neighbors who have suffered gun violence directly.”
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Kurland said WTLP aspires to present work that reaches the quality of MacMillan’s.
The storytellers, he said, are not WTLP contributors. Kurland and his contributors are just out on the street collecting stories, serving as a conduit for the real storytellers. The real storytellers are Philadelphians who deal with this problem on a daily basis in the 22nd Police District – the same area of focus as Philadelphia Ceasefire, where Kurland conducted his first round of interviews and hopes to do the same with his second.
Philadelphia Ceasefire, initially funded by the state of Pennsylvania and now operating on the last leg of a 2012 federal grant from the Department of Justice, is led by Marla Davis Bellamy. Davis Bellamy and her 13 team members have had a significant role in helping reduce gun crime rates in the 22nd Police District.
According to Philadelphia’s 2013 Strategic Plan to Prevent Youth Violence, 5,051 young people between ages 14 and 24 had been shot and/or killed in the six years leading up to its publication.
Davis Bellamy finds that horrendous. “People are under the impression that the news, newspapers, etcetera are reporting all violent acts that occur in the city overnight,” she said. “We know that’s not the case.”
But there seems to be a trend in anti-gun violence advocacy vehicles in Philadelphia: GunCrisis.org stopped its daily reporting in November of last year after coming short of meeting operating costs, and Philadelphia Ceasefire is scrambling to find funding before its own coffers are depleted in September.
The federal grant money allocated to Philadelphia Ceasefire in 2012 will run dry this coming September. After that?
“Good question,” Davis Bellamy said. “I have been spending days, nights and weekends trying to do all that I possibly can in terms of raising awareness and trying to engage funders in regards to this particular initiative.”
When it comes to advocacy and sustainable programs, Bellamy feels the private and philanthropic sectors are failing to do their part. “We’re hoping someone — city, state, federal government — will help us sustain the work that we’ve already started,” Bellamy said. “It’s certainly an uphill battle.”
Part of the funding problem is a lack of public interest in gun violence. That’s one divide Where’s The Love, Philadelphia? hopes to bridge with their platform. It’s not reporting the news; it’s publishing personal stories.
For now, Where’s the Love, Philadelphia? is focused on North Philadelphia, in conjunction with Philadelphia Ceasefire’s home turf.
“Gun violence is more prevalent in that district than any other district in the city,” said Kurland. “That’s our starting point, where gun violence is probably the most visible.” Once the projects sees some success there, Kurland hopes it will expand to other afflicted areas of the city.
Image via Where’s The Love, Philadelphia?-30-
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