Yolanda Murray is a motherly figure at Philadelphia CeaseFire. She has dedicated her life to helping North Philadelphia youth rise above the daily violence they face.
While the street life and violence are systemic problems, Yolanda believes the empowerment of Philadelphia youth is crucial in improving conditions. This city’s children must take the wheel, and they need the supports to do so.
Why Are so Many People Dying Here?
"We deal with [ages] 14-25. They all want to be part of the gun violence. They call it 'catching wreck.' You down somebody, and you don’t tell. Then you’re the man. It’s like a group thing, showing you’re the tough guy ... You killed so and so, and then another [guy] from the [other side] kills your friend. It’s like a game to them.
"From what we’re hearing now, a lot of older male individuals who have gun charges on them [are] encouraging the young men to get [them] guns … because he don’t have no charges on him, so it’s easy for him to get it. [Guns move through] straw purchases, and people go to gun places, buy a load of them, and sell them on the street. Young, old, it doesn’t matter. We just lost a 51-year-old man who just got out of jail. Age don’t have anything to do with it."
Dropping the Gun: Individual Choices and Community Support
"It’s up to the individual. I had one participant who was heavily engaged in gun violence and selling drugs, but he [got arrested] ... so now, he’s working. I got him a job. I [tried to] change his mindset to put the gun down and stop selling drugs.
"I said, 'Well what do you want to be?' He said, 'You’re going to laugh at me. I want to be a cop. I want to be a detective.' I really bust out laughing, like are you kidding me. He said no. I said, 'You know what, the next time I get the police officer application literature, I’m going to give it to you.' He applied. He took the test, and he passed. He’s getting ready to be in the Philadelphia Police Department .... I’m very proud of him."
How Can We End the Violence?
"Provide jobs for some of our felons, because it’s very hard to get some of them jobs ... funding education for them because a lot of them drop out of school. They got to go back to school to get their GED. That costs [money]. And a lot of them have other issues, like housing situations. We all need those types of services for these guys.
"If you approach some of these young men, they’re already angry. They’re already bitter. You can’t approach them [with a] disrespectful, negative [attitude]. I approach them like a motherly figure .... At the end of the day, I get their attention ... and they listen."
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Interview by Lamar Thomas and Tan Chan | Text by Tan Chan | Photography by Wing So