Written By: Mariam Dembele
Photos By: Margo Reed
Last Wednesday, Youssef Kromah, a poetic, author and self-proclaimed abolitionist, stood in front of a modest crowd inside a small Walnut Street theater with murals lined walls and told a tragic story of a young boy who earned a nickname around his Southwest Philly block as ‘the hitman.’
The ‘hitman’ gained his reputation from his position as the go-to-guy for drug dealers and gang bangers when they needed someone dead.
They would smoke him up and then send him out, Kromah said.
He was only about 16-years-old at the time. Kromah described how he would attempt to mentor the boy; telling him that it didn’t have to be this way.
Then one day Kromah ran into him at the store and the boy seemed troubled. “I shot someone,” he said. Kromah began to tell him that he could change his life, but the boy stopped him.
He said he wasn’t upset he shot him, he was upset because the man didn’t die, Kromah said. That’s when Kromah said he gave up on the ‘hitman.’
A few days later the boy was found dead.
Kromah’s story was only one of the many somber tales shared that night at the One Love Philly Guns Down event.
The event hosted by the Social Artist Group at the Rotunda brought together singers, musicians and poets to talk about gun violence and other major issues faced by Philadelphians. Through their music and discussion they said they hoped to spark a change in the mentality of those on the streets. Hopefully inspiring people to abandon the guns and thus end the tales of violence and loss.
“We came together as a community of artists, musicians and performers to talk about a cause,” said Osiris Wildfire, a host and performer at the event. “There’s so much to talk about that’s not being discussed in our communities.”
“We’re not going to stand idle, we’re not going to be victims,” said Schenck, the head of the Social Artist Group and lead organizer of the event.
Schenck knows firsthand the effects of gun violence, having lost his nephew 16 years ago.
Schenck said he wanted to create a positive event where people can come together as a community and share their experiences and directly impact the state of Philadelphia streets.
“Philadelphia is becoming a hotbed for destruction,” Wildfire added. “You have one side where people are just partying and having good time, then you have this side where people are losing their lives”
In 2013 the Philadelphia Police reported that 201 people were killed by a gunshot and over 1,000 people were victims in shootings.
Kromah said he believes that the real way to change these statistics is by changing the mentality of the people.
“The issue is not the guns, the guns don’t shoot themselves,” Kromah said. “The reality is cultivating a love of self and love of your people. If I love myself, I have a knowledge of self, I will be reluctant to look at someone who looks just like me and me and kill him.”
“It really lies within the mentality of the people, you change mentality first then the guns wouldn’t even be a necessity,” he added.
Kromah suggested that everyone look into mentoring. He said he believes it’s by educating the youth that there will be a change. He brought a young man he’s mentoring now to the event. Together they sold colorful bowties after his performance to raise money.
“The battle of getting the gun off the street is far more difficult than it is just to reach out to a young man like himself and just educate and mentor him,” Kromah said. “It’s easier to do that than to fight the legislators and big businesses about guns.”
Kromah said he was drawn to activism from his own experience growing up not having many role models to turn to.
“Just knowing the reality of the need for mentorship for activism, it required me to do something,” he explained.
Together all the artists and guests said they hoped that they would be able to positively impact the future of Philadelphia’s youth.
“You want people to have a future you want people to believe that the will have futures,” said Wildfire.
Wildfire said they plan on having more events with more music and guests.
“This is only part one,” said Wildfire. “Part two is going to be amazing.”