Joy and Pain

All the feels when a community comes together about gun violence.

Events are organic. The best plans allow for this, and will adapt to the audience who comes out. The result may be something you never imagined — which we learned June 24th, when an outreach program for National Gun Violence Awareness month turned into a Family Movie Night where kids were entertained while grown-ups connected over the grim reality of almost-daily shootings.

“We’re coming out to acknowledge this violence that’s touching so many lives. We’re reaching out to everyone who’s hurting, to let them know they’re not alone. We will fight this together,” Monique Gaillard said in Tabor Community Partners’ press release. TCP and REVIVE Radio initially coordinated an outdoor screening at Vernon Park of ““Shell Shocked,” a documentary about guns and inner city youth.

“Gun violence impacts everyone, whether you’re Black, white, Hispanic, Asian, whatever,” noted Elfia King (TCP coordinator), “This goes beyond politics, affecting us intimately: where we live, and those we love.” Indeed, the families featured in Shell Shocked could be any one of us – which was exactly the point.

Pop-up media booth (aka modified shower tent)

This event focused on validation: there’d be an audience Q&A, with trained professionals on-site to help guests express themselves and talk things though. The movie’s director had recorded a personal message, there was even a “media booth” where neighbors could go on camera about their experiences with gun violence.

But then something unexpected happened…

The big inflatable screen going up was like a beacon to the many parents and small children enjoying Vernon Park on a beautiful summer evening. Soon, the chairs were filled with innocent, expectant faces, patiently waiting for the show to begin. “Is this a funny movie?!” one little boy asked, and everyone kind of winced…

Host. P.O.C. (Revive Radio) did not skip a beat, though. In a flash, we had a new plan to show the Disney movie “Soul” and try this gun violence event another time – perhaps at a venue where the audience can be better targeted. So on this night of Gun Violence Awareness, the park filled with lively music and the sound of young kids’ laughter.

And yet.

People still took the opportunity to connect with victims services and anti-violence advocates tabling at the event. Some even shared their personal stories with our own Lenora Gaillard, herself a survivor of gun violence.

Lenora sat with neighbors as they talked about the worst day of their lives, and the enormous toll that violence has taken on them and their families. Some quotes provide a visceral snapshot of loss and trauma:

“My brother was shot twice in the head, he didn’t die but it changed his life, and ours too. He’s paralyzed on his right side, he’s non-verbal. He’s only 29. All over nonsense, it was just a fight. Guy came back and shot him.”

“When you look around and see it’s the norm to be killed or incarcerated, it shifts your whole perspective on your life. I think that hopeless feeling makes people turn to violence. What do I have to lose? It’s not a big deal, I wasn’t expecting to get far anyway.”

“I was a junior in college I got a call that woke me up from my sleep that my father had been robbed and murdered. A friend was raped and killed. Another friend was murdered. I don’t know how to explain it.”

“Do you want to correct your child or do you want the streets to correct your child? If the streets correct your child, you might not have a child.”

“When you feel that rage coming over you or whatever those emotions are — think about the people you will affect. Not just you and the conflict you have. Think about that person’s family. Their kids. Their mother. Everything doesn’t require violence.”

“He was killed right next to me. I saw him. He was shot in his heart and his face and his head. His blood was on me, he was on the ground, I was telling him he needs to get up.“

“You get tired of the stories now. It was never that way before. Where are the guns coming from? How do they get a hold of them? Where are their parents – these guys are young. They say children are our future, well, we’re losing our future.”

When the movie ended, Tabor blasted Golden Oldies as we broke down our booths. Looking out over Vernon Park, some of the people shaking their booties had just shared their saddest memories. Their carefree children smiled to fill goodie bags with snacks off tables offering Gun Violence info – which they are thankfully oblivious to. For now.

These kids who came out to this Gun Violence Awareness event represent the next generation of Philadelphians who deserve better, period. Better schools, better healthcare, better nutrition, better recreation, better opportunities. It doesn’t make sense to keep investing in prisons and policing, and then blaming society for getting more violent. Pardon us, but we’re not the ones buying grenade launchers.

Perhaps the final irony of the evening came when the cameraman from Channel 3/CBS had to leave for a shooting in South Philly. Nobody was surprised. Happy kids carried off orange balloons while families here and across the city carry on with their grief and their guarded hopes for change.

For support and information about gun violence,  Northwest Victims Services, Every Murder Is Real, and the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia

We’re super grateful for Lenora and her interview subjects, for fearlessly speaking out and, hopefully, energizing others into action.  Meanwhile, we look forward to planning another screening for Shell Shocked. For updates – or If you’d like to share your story with Lenora — please email editor@nwlocalpaper.com.

About Tabor Community Partners:
A program created to impact systemic social problems in Philly at the community level. Trauma-informed child welfare and behavioral health outreach with a focus on families. TCP promotes networking, cooperation and sharing resources to benefit all. 57 East Armat Street 19144, 215-842-4800 taborservicesinc.org

About WHYY/Revive Media’s P.O.C.:
Tamara Russell aka Proof of Consciousness, or “P.O.C.” to her audience of 15,000+ unique listeners who follow her online and thru her broadcasts on WHYY 90.9FM and Uptown Radio 98.5FM. REVIVE reports on news, trends, politics, music and more with an emphasis on youth and Millennial viewpoints. A partner in WHYY’s innovative “News & Information Community Exhange” program, P.O.C. specializes in honest, opinionated storytelling that’s centered in African-American culture. Reviveisalive.com

 

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