I stood and said the name, “Tanya Frisby.” I did not know Tanya, but she can no longer stand and say her own name out loud because she is one of 64 people who were killed through gun violence in 2010 in NW Phildelphia.
Burton and I are living in Philadelphia for four months as I serve as the St. Johns Visiting Professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia where I am teaching three courses. We attended Christ Ascension Lutheran Church on Sunday and saw in the announcements in their worship folder an invitation to attend a Sunday evening “In Their Names: A Remembrance and Call to Action,” sponsored by “Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence,” an interfaith effort to prevent gun violence in the northwest neighborhoods and city.
This effort is part of a wider, “Heeding God’s Call” faith-based movement to prevent gun violence, (check out their website). One action is to meet with gun shop owners to convince them to curtail the sale of guns to straw purchases who illegally sell handguns to others, who in turn use them in crimes and disputes with deadly results. They urge gun shops to adopt a l0-point voluntary code of conduct created by Mayors from across the country.
As we gathered in the large, old First Presbyterian Church, warmed by the sites and sounds of current-day outreach ministries, this interfaith group prayed, heard poetry, were led by the young, and heard wisdom of the elders. We were challenged, inspired and called to action. And we stood, 64 of us, calling out the name of one person who had died from gun violence last year in this neighborhood.
Across this nation 85 people die each day from gun violence. There are more gun homicides in Philadelphia alone each year than in any other nation. We heard Rabbi Linda Holtzman draw us all back to the story of Cain and Abel. “Am I my brother, my sister’s keeper? When? How? What is a Keeper?” Bishop Dwayne Royster said “There’s a health care crisis in this city.” Due to tort reform, qualified physicians who can’t afford insurance have flocked out of the city. And then he told the story of a young man from the hood headed for Harvard on a full scholarship, committed to coming back to Philadelphia to be a doctor here who was gunned down and now lives in a vegetative state dependent upon medical services 24-hours a day rather than being able to serve.
We heard from Victoria Green, Chantay Love and children who had come to tell us movingly about groups they had formed out of their own need to help families of victims of gun violence, “Every Murder is Real” and the “We Live Project.” It’s all about support and education for the long term because every day new parents become “eligible” for their support group. “The bullet does not stop unless you stop it,” because families, suffer from the effects of gun violence long into the future. “Untreated trauma perpetuates violence.” The children and youth shared their commitment to simply live!... to grow up and grow old! They, and we, are committed to invest in the human spirit and teach resiliency as well as to stop gun violence.
Katie Day, professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, one of the leaders in “Neighborhood Partners to End Gun Violence” gave the call to action. She reminded us that 30,000 people in the United States are killed in gun related violence each year and that l20,000 to 130,000 more are injured…way, way beyond any other nation in the world. “We have accepted the unacceptable and felt powerless. We need to confess that powerlessness. Now is the time to move from lamentation and sadness and powerlessness to action.” Led by the youth we went into the fellowship hall to make signs and strengthen our partnership.