How do you protect Philadelphia students from gun violence? Advocates speak out

Advocates bring ideas to solve gun violence to the School District of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Kids make up 11% of shooting victims in Philadelphia and 8% of homicides in the city.

On Friday, a group of advocates made their voices heard at City Hall about how to solve the gun violence crisis facing Philadelphia and its youngest residents, bringing their ideas straight to the School District of Philadelphia and city council.

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"It is a herculean effort," Michele Parker of the Long Live Evan Foundation said.

Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson brought community groups and the Philadelphia public schools Superintendent Tony Watlington into the same room. 

"We've seen over and over and over and over, young people getting shot or murdered on their way to school or on their way home from school," said Johnson, who represents the 2nd District.

Early in the 2022-23 school year, 14-year-old Nicolas Elizalde was killed and four others were injured in an ambush shooting after a football scrimmage at Roxborough High School.

March was a devastating month for the Philadelphia community.

On March 13, 2023, Kensington High School student Neko Rivera was shot blocks away from the school. Two weeks later on March 28, Simon Gratz Master Charter football player Devin Weedon was fatally shot on the way to school.

According to the City Controller's Office, nearly 1,000 people have been shot in the city in 2023.

CBS News Philadelphia

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At Friday's event, many advocates shared traumatic stories of losing loved ones.

"My brother Donte who was murdered in 2008," said Victoria Willie.  

"Losing my 23-year-old son to gun violence in front of my home," Parker said.

Advocates say life experience can be an invaluable teaching tool for our young people. 

"Understand that they just need to have a conversation with somebody that looks and understands, and then connect them to the resources because education is important," Zarinah Lomax from Cheapologues said. "I think we can work hand in hand and do a great job."

Other ideas from the roundtable discussion included better trauma training for teachers and staff – and treating each case in its own way. But there was consensus that kids need to lead the way.

"If you're not listening to what's happening in a child's life, they're going to shut off," Parker said.  

Watlington listened to many gut-wrenching stories -- and even shared one of his own.

"I had a brother who lived his entire life before he passed away with a bullet really close to his spine," he said.

Watlington says he's committed to working with these groups to solve the issue of gun violence plaguing many Philly neighborhoods.

"We can get more done if we continue to partner with our community, and with the people in our community who really want to win this war on gun violence," Watlington said.

And while some say this task may be herculean – these advocates aren't giving up hope.

"If there's something that I can do, something that I can change, a life, to make sure that it makes it easier, then that's what my plan is," Parker said.

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