John Montgomery is an 18 year old high school senior in North Philadelphia who plans to attend CCP (Community College of Philadelphia) and study biotechnical engineering. Having lost his best friend Syfeek to a bullet, gun violence is something he knows all too well.
Yet, in spite of losing those closest to him - through accidents, illness, and violence - John remains strong for all who know him, including serving as a home health aid for his mother. He believes in the future of Philadelphia and has faith that when we all stand together and speak up about gun violence, this epidemic can become something of the past.
“My mom doesn’t have any legs. My father died … two years ago, October 15th. My grandmom died a couple months before that. A week before my grandmom died, my grandfather died Which was actually six months after Syfeek died.
“I actually felt alone because we were together every day. It was more like … we was brothers. It’s crazy when you can depend on a friend more than you can family … We were real close, and when he was gone … I felt alone. But, I couldn’t feel like that … It’s three of us. I have another best friend, his name is Jahlil. Him and Syfeek, [my] best friend that died, they’re cousins … We all used to be together everyday, so now it’s just me and Jahlil, so I gotta be there for him. You know, be strong.
“Gun violence has destroyed a lot of people around here … Some people aren't strong enough to deal with the pain. A lot of people feel sad. They feel depressed and lonely like I felt, but to a deeper extent. I go through that feeling every day. I think about Syfeek every day … But I also know the world will never stop. I also know that you have to keep going. I also know that everybody is born to one day die. So at the end of the day, you have to live to best of your ability.”
I Won’t Make the Same Mistake
“I take a lot of what people experience and what they go through and put it into my life, so I won’t make the same mistake Also, I tend to learn from my mistakes. And if I can help somebody, I tend to do that.
“A lot of people tell me that that’s my weakness, ‘cause I try to help everybody … I’m a protector. They say that I tend to leap for other people’s fights. Stuff like that. I’m protective over my little brother, my little sister and my family, my friends … They say that that’s my weakness, but I feel like that’s actually also a strength because somebody just needs to be helped. Some people need guidance. Some people, they need to be pushed, so I feel like that’s where I come in at.”
“I give my family an amazing amount of support. They tell me everyday that they’re proud of me. They love me and they don’t know how they would do it without me. But [actually] I don’t know how I would do it without them … If they weren’t here, I really wouldn’t have anything to live for. My little sister my little brother and my mom, that’s all I got. I don’t have anything else.
“Most people would say that, ‘Oh, well if it’s just you, look out for number one.’ But, that’s not always the case … you need people to be loved. Because some people don’t really know what love is. A lot of people wake up and they don’t hear ‘I love you’ every day. I have a mom that, when I wake up, she tells me every morning, numerous times throughout the day. [She] asks me how my day was everyday I get home from school. Takes care of my little brothers, takes care of my little sister as best as she can. And that’s also where I come in.”
It Starts With Us
“I do believe something is being done, but not enough's being done. I believe that it's a lot of people out here, like I said, that want gun violence to stop, but nobody wants to be that voice to speak up.
“It starts with us, the young generation … The problem is that nobody is making a change … Everybody is afraid to speak up and be that one person that just sets it aside. And it all starts with one person. Because we could all be in this room, and we could all think the same thing, or we could all be scared to express our idea. And she could be the one to just say ‘Well, I want to express it.’ And then we could say, ‘Well, she did it, why can't I?’”
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December 2015 | Interview, Text, and Portraits by Chelsea Alexander-Taylor