Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, center, in Council chambers earlier this month.

— Photo courtesy the Flickr stream of Philadelphia City Council

Felicia Pendenton knows the anguish of losing a child to gun violence. Her 20-year-old son became a homicide victim two weeks ago.

“I am a broken mother right now,” she said Monday during a City Council hearing on youth gun violence. “My son was 20 years old and he had a plan and his plan was not to be murdered at the age of 20.”

He was a graduate of Imhotep High School, was taking classes at Cheyney University and had planned to graduate from college and marry his girlfriend before his 26th birthday.

Pendenton shared her story during a lengthy public hearing held Monday at City Hall regarding the establishment of a comprehensive strategy for reducing and eliminating youth gun violence.

“I don’t want to make it seem like my son was this goody-two shoes because my son comes from a behavioral health situation,” she said. “My son was diagnosed with ADHD. My son was diagnosed with bipolar (disorder) but I never gave up on him. I was that single mother who went on every single school trip from pre-K to high school with my son. I was never going to allow my son to become a victim of his circumstances.”

During her testimony, Pendenton called for young people in the community to be provided with more resources. She stressed the importance of parents being more involved in their children’s lives and the need for curfew and truancy programs.

“Now that my son is gone, I’m not going to let his death be in vain because he has some friends out there that need help,” she added. “They are not bad children. They are not drug dealers. They don’t need job readiness, they need jobs right now.”

More than 30 medical professionals, community advocates, attorneys, law enforcement officers and leaders of nonprofit organizations who are working to reduce gun violence were scheduled to speak during the hearing, which was convened by the Council committee on public safety. The hearing comes as nearly half of the state's 1,378 gun violence victims are under the age of 25, according to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“We want to take all the information from those who are testifying today and look at how can we coordinate our efforts more comprehensively and how can we be more supportive of our social service organizations and our boots on the ground organizations who are addressing the issue of youth gun violence,” said City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who co-chairs the Committee on Public Safety. “I think we need to do a better job at making sure that all the stakeholders are at the table, as we address the issue of youth gun violence moving forward.”

He called for a more to be done on the federal level to address the issue.

“There has to be a federal agenda that makes the issue of youth gun violence its number one priority,” Johnson said. “We want to make sure resources are funneled down to the local level that will assist various city agencies, so these agencies can be well equipped and well-armed to go out and address the issue of youth gun violence. For me, everyone has to roll up their sleeves and put some skin in the game on the city level, the state level and federal level.”

During the hearing, Dorothy Johnson-Speight, executive director of Mothers in Charge addressed how the organization is working to prevent violence and reduce recidivism rates. While Mothers in Charge is known supporting grieving families during vigils, the organization also offers anger management and grief support programs.

“There’s no words that can describe the pain that you feel when you have to bury a loved one due to violence but it’s a pain that we live with every single day and despite that pain, we work every single day to make a difference,” Johnson-Speight said.

She said gun violence should be treated like a public health epidemic.

“We’ve got to address it that way, as a public health epidemic, like Ebola” Johnson-Speight said. “The resources that you put in to stop the spread of diseases like that, those same resources and dollars have to be put in place to stop the spread of homicides.”

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