“We [tend to] just look at them as numbers, but there’s a story,” said Marla Davis Bellamy, the executive director of Philadelphia Ceasefire.
Her perspective reflects Ceasefires’ commitment to developing interpersonal relationships with residents in violence-plagued neighborhoods. The City of Philadelphia acknowledged the validity of the approach by providing them with $250,000 for the program.
“It’s been proven to be effective. It is evidence based and that’s something that Philadelphia has been somewhat short on– evidence based programs,” Bellamy said.
Instead of the evidence-based programs, she said that Philadelphia has been primarily law enforcement driven, meaning that the individual is mandated by the courts to participate. Philadelphia Ceasefire differs in that they serve self-motivated individuals.
Originally based out of Chicago, Ceasefire has spread to major cities such as Baltimore, New York, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Kansas City and New Orleans. Marcus McAllister, the national community coordinator for Ceasefire, said that while the cities and their neighborhoods differ, the issues that plague them do not.
“When I go to these different cities and hear the different problems they’re having…it’s all the same,” Marcus McAllister said. “We can help them out a lot because we’ve seen it all. I can use our experiences from New York and leverage them to Philadelphia, and use experiences that I’ve learned in Philadelphia and leverage them in Baltimore and so forth.”
The training that McAllister was referring to ensures that Philadelphia Ceasefire operates effectively. The program staff frequents the streets of Strawberry Mansion regularly, visiting local recreation centers and schools, to ensure they are connected with residents. Those who are motivated to join Philadelphia Ceasefire benefit from outreach workers who provide direction and support with employment opportunities, family issues and sources of [potential] conflict.
That doesn’t mean that the battle against gun violence is won once Ceasefire steps on the scene; it takes time, and more important, stamina.
“We’ve got to do this together. We can’t just leave it to police. We’ve got to be actively engaged, involved and committed to the long term,” Bellamy said. Given the gun violence that claimed the life of a Strawberry Mansion resident last Friday, she’s right.
She recently met with the father of the victim and found out that he was a single parent raising his son. The victim’s mother was murdered when he was 4 years old.
“The father said it just got to a point where he just could not manage his son, so he kicked him out the house at age 16,” Bellamy said. “He tried to get both of his sons some mental health counseling and did do that, but he just felt his son was always out there looking for some kind of love.”
Cycles of violence like this caused the Chicago-based Ceasefire to come to Strawberry Mansion.
“We know that the 22nd Police District has the highest number of homicides and shootings in the city so that’s why we’re here. The data brought us here,” Bellamy said.
Now that they’re here, Bellamy said he wants the City of Philadelphia to hear Ceasefire loud and clear.
“In Chicago everybody buys into this [Ceasefire],” he said. “From the White Sox, to the power company, everyone has a vested interest in this. That’s what we need in Philadelphia. It can’t just be the mayor or law enforcement, it has to be everybody.”
To the Strawberry Mansion residents whom Ceasefire is committed to empowering, Bellamy sent a message.
“We need faith-based leaders to engage in this and to be one of our messengers because we certainly have a small staff,” she said. “All of us can be messengers. It would help tremendously if they begin to dialogue about this and engage in our shooting responses.”
Bellamy, who previously served as the former chief of staff for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, said she believes violence is a public health issue and a learned behavior.
“We’re trying to change behavior. We’re not looking at these individuals as bad persons, we’re not looking at them from a criminal element, we’re looking at them as people,” she said, “We’re in it for the long haul. I’m in it for the long haul.”
Philadelphia Ceasefire can be contacted at 215-204-3321 or at 1700 N. Broad St., Room 201.