In the shadow of darkness illuminated by flashlights, 37-year-old Pastor G. Lamar Stewart organizes faith leaders and volunteers to walk through Philadelphia neighborhoods plagued by gun violence.
The number of gun violence victims in that city increased more than 50% from 2019 to 2020. In 2021, Philadelphia had more than 2,300 shooting victims. This year, that number is already above 1,000.
Stewart’s “Corner to Connections Initiative” is a 30-day violence interruption plan. Split in different groups, dozens of volunteers patrol the streets from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. The volunteers introduce themselves to neighbors and hand out flyers about an upcoming job fair.
The main goal of the group is to meet and reach as many young black men as possible — the group statistically most at risk of falling victim to the violence in the streets.
“People are used to seeing people handing out information. Put a flyer in the hand. But what young people need is a constant presence,” Stewart told CBS News’ Jericka Duncan.
Among the volunteers is Michele Parker, a mother who lost her 23-year-old son Evan Baylor last year after he was gunned down in front of their home.
“There are some days that are very difficult, like his birthday. Devastating,” Parker said.
She said she wants people to understand that a heated moment could completely change multiple lives forever.
“Look at the people that you leave behind. And can you look at them in the face? Like whoever took my son’s life, can they look me in the face and say that it was okay to do that? No, it’s not,” she said.
Another volunteer is 18-year-old Wayne Lee Prater III, who graduated from high school just a few hours earlier. Instead of celebrating, he joined the group of volunteers.
“I’m out here because I’m sick of it. I’m tired of it. We shouldn’t have to do this. It’s like we can’t keep depending on our older generation. It’s time for this generation to actually step up, and do what they have to do,” said Prater.
Stewart echoed the importance of reaching out to the community.
“These are our kids. These are nephews, these are our sons, these are our daughters, our nieces. And we understand that we have a responsibility as a church and church community. We have a responsibility as a society to wrap our arms around them,” Stewart added.
The 30 days on the streets culminates with a job fair at the end of this month.