“Do you want to live or do you want to die?”
That’s the question Philadelphia CeaseFire, an anti-violence organization, asks all clients before they can seek help from the outreach program. CeaseFire is an organization where young adults can go to turn away from the gun violence that has plagued the city, and more specifically, the Strawberry Mansion area.
CeaseFire first started in Chicago in an attempt to lower gun violence.
The many factors laid forth from the initial Chicago model contain a five-pronged approach to help offenders stop their involvement with such violent activities. The factors include community mobilization, youth outreach, faith-based leadership, police participation and public awareness.
One of the faith-based organizations that led the program is Redeem Baptist Church in Strawberry Mansion, which hopes to inspire those affected with God’s love. They also show support for the initiative by sponsoring the activities and mentoring youth that show high-risk and violent behavior.
According to the organization, 10 percent of the city’s homicides last year were in the 22nd district, which Strawberry Mansion belongs to. The district only accounts for 2 percent of the city’s population.
Beyond the program CeaseFire uses to help individuals deal with their violent paths, the group hosts marches around blocks of crime scenes where a shooting has claimed a life.
Brandon Jones is an outreach team member for the organization, and lends his experience with violence to members seeking help.
As the vocal leader of the marches that the organization holds, Jones makes sure the community around each shooting knows what has happened. He also uses a megaphone on the marches to encourage surrounding citizens of the area to join in the march.
Jones himself served time in prison for an attempted homicide charge. He makes it known to individuals hearing the march as it takes place that the group is not going to get the police involved.
“We aren’t their babysitters,” Jones said. “We don’t care about that. We want to work with them; help them.”
Jones sits down with the individuals who have high risk and violent street activity and attempts to show them what is available to young people when they turn away from violence.
“We want to assist them to achieve some of those goals that wouldn’t be available to them if they were caught up in the street life,” Jones said.
One of the many people who received help from the organization was Denzel Davis, who also sought help after being an ex-offender.
Davis continues to be an involved member of the group, and is now amongst the many involved in the organization that lends their experience with the situation as well as support.
Davis attended the most recent march CeaseFire held for a slain victim. “It’s not right,” he said in response to the gun violence in the area. “It’ not fair at all.”
Davis said he turned his life around when he sat down with an outreach worker in the organization.
“I used to do all that bad stuff,” Davis said. “Gangs… all that bad stuff. I just stopped and sat down and thought about what I was doing, and it wasn’t right.”
Davis urges the change that needs to occur in young adults, and how they can get away from the violent life that so many in the area deal with everyday.
“CeaseFire changed my life around,” Davis said. “I want to get a job now. I want a career. I’m more motivated. Now I’m here to help the younger kids.”
CeaseFire offers its help to Philadelphia youth. To get help from the organization, an individual must be between the ages of 14 and 25, and meet several other criteria.
In addition to being a certain age to get help from the organization, a client must also have a prior history of offending and arrests, be a member of a gang, have been a victim of a shooting or involved in high-risk street activity.
According to the organization, two-thirds of shooting offenders in Philadelphia were between the ages of 14 and 24.
Clients are drawn to CeaseFire by a courting process and not through institutions in general. Workers for the outreach program spend most of their time outside of their office and try to make individuals aware that the organization exists, and that they can be helped.
The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency funds the organization. The commission works with the governor’s office, and allocates state and federal funds to victim service providers like CeaseFire. The commission also helps communities to improve the administration of justice.
Philadelphia CeaseFire helps to bring hope to those with none. “You’ve got people around here who are hopeless,” Jones said.
With megaphone in hand, Jones and CeaseFire are a louder voice for a problem that for too long has gone unheard.