When Nortavin Rogers was growing up in North Philadelphia, the temptation to make a living on the streets was always there, but he decided to work honestly for his own money.
Today, Nortavin works for Philadelphia CeaseFire, mentoring community members, breaking up violent arguments and preventing bloodshed.
Nortavin leads his community, not just through his infectious smile, poise, and optimism, but through the way he lives his life.
A System of Oppression
"When I was a child, I didn’t think there was anything special about me. I didn’t grow [up] in the neighborhood thinking that people looked at me like I was important, like I mattered to anybody. Once I started doing the right thing — staying out of trouble — I started seeing people pay attention to me .... They were happy that I was doing something different. I wasn’t used to all that attention, and felt that I found a new way to be accepted, instead of being accepted for negative acts.
"There’s a lot of things I’ve done that I am not proud of. The environment is so hostile ... take or be taken. That’s become the normal. Some people will try to rob you, or do something to you because you have more than what they have. Even when you don’t want to be that type of a person,you’re forced to be that type of a person."
“People are not really building family businesses because there really is no family. Mom is still out partying. Grandma, nowadays … is still struggling. Some of us don’t even have fathers, so that’s out of the conversation.
"I’m not saying that these things don’t happen within every race, but it shows more in ours. Our unity is not there, and we are still not encouraging our people to realize that things can be better. It’s always,'Hey, this is the way it is.' I don’t really know where this [state of mind] came from because it comes from [before my time].
"I know that everybody in my community struggles to go to Black Friday. They work more, or do whatever they have to do to save up some money for Black Friday. Then, they spend everything they got. But, you come home and your neighborhood is fucked up. Where’s the money to invest in the neighborhood?
"These are the things we’re not valuing. These are the things I’m just learning [myself], because I used to think the same way."
Spreading the Love in North Philadelphia
"I believe what [Philadelphia CeaseFire] is doing is really unheard of nowadays, especially among our people — this hands-on help, even on the streets, before they get to the level of incarceration or death.
"I think it takes strong people like us, who have been ... through some of these obstacles to feel like we know what to say to these guys. The things that we do and say — we actually give hope.
“I think what we’re doing is really good — the consistency that we show, being out there, in snow or rain: if they need us, we’re out there. I really think that goes a long way.”
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Interview by Wing So and Tia Yang | Text and Photography by Wing So