By Eric Westbrook, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Black Male Engagement
For years, Black men and boys have been center stage regarding gun violence in Philadelphia and, admittedly, most of our efforts as City government have been reactive and short-term. In addition, and far too often, the narratives in the media leave us angry, confused and feeling hopeless. And while we cannot eliminate the traumatic storyline of the current gun violence crisis, we know that it is time to shift it. Black men and boys in Philadelphia deserve a broader storyline about their lived experiences, and the opportunity to lead efforts to ensure healthy outcomes.
The Office of Black Male Engagement(OBME) is on a path to highlight and elevate the stories of redemption, reconciliation, and restorative practices being implemented throughout the city to put an end to gun violence. We believe that these stories of hope are just as present as many of the heartbreaking ones. Through our new project A Hope that Lights the Way we will spark the belief that change is happening in Philadelphia.
A Hope that Lights the Way is both a community-based engagement process and a documentary that will uncover and elevate the powerful stories of impact and success in overcoming the many challenges of gun violence. Through deep listening and community focus groups, we will document an ongoing narrative of progress and transformation by turning a light towards those in our communities who are leading the way in developing and maintaining hope. More importantly, these strategies of hope are relevant data that will help the City make critical decisions about how to engage residents as we tread a path forward.
In collaboration with the Office of Youth Engagement and Faith-Based and Interfaith Affairs, our colleagues within the Office of Public Engagement, we will create pathways for true partnership between City government and residents who care about the well-being of Black men and boys. By inviting Philadelphia residents to engage in deeper conversation about the creation of hope in communities impacted by gun violence, we will learn how to provide the necessary and specific support for each neighborhood. Our residents have a powerful history of community involvement in shifting the narrative of our neighborhoods and that’s how it should be.
The documentary will feature community leaders and organizations, or “Hope Dealers,” who are committed everyday to violence prevention and intervention initiatives. It will highlight community-based organizations from all over the City working to break the cycle of gun violence. Striving to close the opportunity gaps for our most impacted communities, we seek to elevate their experiences and strategies for success, and inspire others to follow their lead and expand this critical work to their neighborhoods.
We understand that hope is not the absence of difficulty or tragedy but it is where belief in a preferred future is met with opportunity. These workers are not only doing the internal work of helping people believe, but they are doing the external work of providing real-time services and resources that can close the gaps to opportunities, especially for Black men and boys. With this kind of belief and support, this documentary should encourage residents in Philadelphia and beyond that there is hope to overcome the multi-faceted challenges of gun violence.
This work is made possible through the City of Philadelphia’s Operations Transformation Fund. This fund was created to support innovative projects designed to create or transform a process or service being offered by a City department or office. These projects must benefit Philadelphia residents and improve government efficiency. A Hope that Lights the Way creates an additional process for public engagement through the powerful art of storytelling centering the stories of the experts – Philadelphia community members. You are welcome to track the progress of our work at the Operations Transformation Fund Dashboard and feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to stay up to date with other initiatives and programs.