Activists, clergy and family of murder victims gathered in Nicetown Park to pray for peace, love and policies to curb the gun violence in the neighborhood, on Friday evening.
A Prayer for Nicetown was organized by community activist Nikki Bagby after being contacted by a young woman who shared that at least 11 people the woman grew up with in Nicetown have been shot or stabbed to death over the past two years.
“One of our young people texted me. She said ‘I want to have prayer.’ And I just put it out on Facebook,” said Bagby. “There’s a picture going around with 11 young people murdered in the last two years, under 30 and from here. My heart was broken when she asked me.”
The picture that Bagby references is a collage on social media that has been created over time as people from the neighborhood have been killed. There could be more victims, but the 11 in the photo, in addition to all being under 30 and from Nicetown, are said to have been familiar with each other.
Paige Gandy, 25, who is from Nicetown but now lives in Olney, said she knew all the victims from grade school or the neighborhood. Realizing this, she said, is what made her contact Bagby.
“Every time somebody pass, they add their photo,” she said of the collage. “I was like ‘Wow.’ [They] all hung together.”
Gandy added that she wasn’t close with the 11 victims, but would speak to them in passing. She said her breaking point to cry for help came when a friend, “Romel,” died this month. She cried several times as she shared her views on the violence during the gathering.
“We don’t have [anybody] to watch over us, nobody to train them” she said, “Instead of your old head telling you to sell drugs, why not tell you to get a job? We don’t have a lot of old men to mold the young men.”
Atil Finney, a returning citizen who now does motivational speaking for youth, has had two cousins and a nephew shot and killed in the past two to three years. The latest death was a few months ago, in which his cousin was shot 42 times.
“My nephew hadn’t even turned 21 yet. That was hard,” said Finney. “I know what type of lifestyle they were in. I wanted to help but the streets got a hold to them.” Finney’s views on the gun violence are similar to Gandy’s.
“I believe it’s happening because the adults are afraid to step up. They are afraid to discipline their children. Now, the children are running wild. If adults are to step up, I can’t say it would decrease the violence, but you never know.”
As of 2019, the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) reports that 182 homicides have been committed so far. This is a six percent increase compared to the same time last year. The last homicide report listed on the PPD website is from 2016 and that one notes the 39th district, which includes Nicetown, as being the fourth in number of homicides in the city.
Deshawnda Williams, Pastor of Evangelism and Missions for New Inspirational Baptist Church, which is located in Nicetown, has seen the after effects.
“Three people have died on the steps of the church within the last two years,” she said. “They were all running from the assailant and died right there.” Asked about her feelings on this, Williams responded “I can be upset or do something about it, I can’t worry about how I feel because I will be angry. If I am proactive, that’s where the change comes. I want to move from all this conversation to implementation."
In her prayer, 25-year-old Gandy asked God to “make it better for everybody.
I just pray that a change comes and I want this change to be for everybody, not just for the one’s that’s getting killed, for the people that’s still here, watch over them so they won’t be the next victim. Just watch over us females, stop the beefing. God, I just want peace. I want us to come together as one and be a family.”