Philly organization Erase the Rate addresses gun violence by empowering the community

Philly organization Erase the Rate addresses gun violence by empowering the community

After the Eagles won the Super Bowl, much of the city was in a celebratory mood. But some people were not. Count among that second group the relatives and loved ones of the six people reportedly shot — and one killed — over the course of that very night. Gun violence and related deaths are an unfortunate constant in Philadelphia, no matter what other victories the city celebrates. Though it dipped slightly in the middle of the decade, Philly’s homicide rate has ticked back up. Last year saw 317 victims, compared to 277 the year prior. As of Feb. 5, the Philadelphia Police Department had recorded 25 homicides. Philly native Davida Garner is trying to raise awareness of the problem with a new organization — and its latest effort is a big public event set for this weekend. On Saturday, Feb. 10, Erase the Rate will host a “Walk to End Homicide.” Read the rest of the story here... Dominique “Peak” Johnson is a North Philadelphia...
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Warehouse on Watts, Philly’s Best Kept Secret

Warehouse on Watts, Philly’s Best Kept Secret

Gavin DiRusso had a few challenges before opening Warehouse on Watts (WOW), “a grassroots events space” in North Philadelphia. Initially, he had purchased the space in late September of 2013 for its garage so that he could develop and work on his own projects. The purchase was made around the time that the city switched over their real estate tax methods. It took over a year and a half before getting things up to code. “We’ve obviously had challenges, but for the most part I’ve been trying to keep things as organic as possible,” DiRusso said. Once DiRusso was able to get WOW operational, he opened up a few spaces for tenants which helped him get some consistent income so that he could invest it back into the space. WOW had started experiencing some success, until the city’s Licensing and Inspections noted that there were a few violations that needed to be addressed and all of DiRusso’s tenants were made to...
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In North Philly, a former Boy Scout is now a scoutmaster

In North Philly, a former Boy Scout is now a scoutmaster

Antonio McCall has been involved in scouting since he was just 14 years old. He followed his step-brother one day to a scout meeting at Wayland Temple Baptist Church in at 25th and Cecil B. Moore and never left. “That was exciting to me, that was different to me,” said McCall, who’s 31 and the scoutmaster for Troop 98. “I’m a different kind of guy, I was a different kind of kid. So when I came here and heard that was an option, those were things that we would learn and explore, I was excited. Being that this troop is based in North Philly, there’s not a lot of that so I was excited that this was an opportunity that I could come every week and meet new people.” Troop 98 is one of seven units in North Philadelphia and has been around since 1999. It was started by former scout master Roslyn Munson with her son, Aaron, who was one of...
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The people who care for Philly’s gunshot victims

The people who care for Philly’s gunshot victims

On average, Kenneth Dupree of Dupree Funeral Home at 28th and Diamond streets sees one to two victims of gun violence a year. Bruce Talbert says Talbert Funeral Parlor at 22nd near Lehigh has received 10 so far. The services for the victims that both men preside over have all been young people, usually in their early 20s. Talbert says he’s not surprised when gunshot victims come through the door, but it doesn’t get any easier. “It’s not an everyday occurrence, but it’s not something that alarms us when it happens,” the Chester native said. “When I was growing up, you handled things with your hands. [Young people now] handle things with guns, so it’s not something that catches you off guard to get a call from a family that someone has passed from a shooting incident.” With anyone who has passed — but specifically with those of gun violence — the family conferences that follow with funeral directors can be highly emotional....
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This Germantown native helps Philly dogs get adopted and takes strays off the streets

This Germantown native helps Philly dogs get adopted and takes strays off the streets

Animal control officer Steven Morales’ schedule changes constantly. From replying to complaints to responding to calls about stranded animals, he doesn’t have a typical day at Philly’s Animal Care & Control Team. Though it can get hectic at times, the work he does can be rewarding and something he wants to continue to do. JEVS Human Services held its 19th Annual Strictly Business Awards late last week, where Morales received the inspiration award for working hard and continuing on a positive path, despite his challenging past. JEVS helps people with physical, emotional and developmental challenges, as well as those who are unemployed or underemployed. It was not an easy road for Morales to get where he is now. The Germantown resident has lived in the city all his life, but found himself in prison in his early 20s and spent part of the next two decades in and out of prison on drug charges. While behind bars, Morales was able to connect with...
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Lost in the education system, two West Philly natives on what got them into — and out of — jail

Lost in the education system, two West Philly natives on what got them into — and out of — jail

Josh Glenn was first introduced to the world of drug dealing when he was 13. When he was working as a bagger at local grocery stores, someone from his West Philadelphia community approached him, asking if he would be interested in making “real money.” “There were no role models, no mentorship, we didn’t have anything in our community,” Glenn said. “The role models were people who were selling drugs, they would come up to me looking flashy, having good money and would try and get me to sell drugs.” Glenn was constantly approached and pressured to start dealing, eventually getting worn down. The police, Glenn said, would often target people in his community. In 2005, he was charged with aggravated assault with a weapon. He said that he didn’t commit the crime, but the police charged him based on a complaint, and he found himself in jail for the next 18 months. Glenn admitted that had a brief criminal drug history prior to...
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After prison, Faith Bartley wants to help other women get a second chance

After prison, Faith Bartley wants to help other women get a second chance

Faith Bartley wants a home to call her own. Not just a rented room, but somewhere that can take her away from the community that she’s known all her life. “I was born and raised in this community, so I know everybody. From the time that I was a child and up until now,” Bartley, now 53, said. “Right now, I reside in a room, because every time I go look for an apartment, they go into my criminal history. Even though my record has been expunged, there are still some drug felonies on my criminal history that can’t be removed, because I was convicted of it.” Bartley is a fixture in her neighborhood, doing what she can to help others. A the start of our conversation, she was even interrupted by someone asking if she had coffee. “No sir, ain’t no coffee, bro,” She said. “Brotha, close my door. I’m in an interview.” She doesn’t sugarcoat her past. Over the years, she’s spent...
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Inside a Philly criminal record expungement clinic: ‘Freedom is not just freedom’

Inside a Philly criminal record expungement clinic: ‘Freedom is not just freedom’

Sterling Scott arrived at St. Mark’s Church in Frankford with the same goal as his peers: to start the process of getting his criminal record expunged. “My daughter, she attacked me and I wound up macing her,” Scott, 63, said. “I went to the police station to let them know what happened and shortly after that, I guess she called them and they arrested me at the police station.” At the beginning of the criminal record expungement and sealing clinic on Tuesday, Scott was among 40 people who sat inside a small room of the church listening intently to the lengthy process of what they would have to do in order to get their records sealed or expunged. Obtaining a person’s criminal history is the first step in the process. Both the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia were in attendance. PLSE holds expungement clinics throughout the city that is greatly impacted by arrests with partnering organizations. While PLSE...
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How an Overbrook High grad went from jail time to a career in engineering

How an Overbrook High grad went from jail time to a career in engineering

Paul Johnson knows that it’s hard for people from the outside looking in to understand his story and his struggles. His life, he said, was never straightforward. Johnson, 26, attended and graduated from Overbrook high school and took a few college courses at the Community College of Philadelphia before dropping out. He soon took a path that led him to spending time in and out of jail before being sentenced to six months for missing court dates due to driving under the influence. Once released, he had trouble securing a job. No one really wanted to take the chance of hiring someone with a record, and he received a lot of rejections from employers after handing in his applications. Then his probation officer connected him to the PowerCorps program through the Philadelphia Water Department, where Johnson learned about the history and use of Green Stormwater Infrastructure, and was able to do work that included basic maintenance on drains, landscape and infrastructure work. He...
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Like Skype for prisons: How tech is used in PA for virtual inmate visitation

Like Skype for prisons: How tech is used in PA for virtual inmate visitation

Myra Gaskins’ life changed in 1989. Her son, LaFaye Gaskins, had been arrested for murder. Myra still insists her son is innocent, but a jury found him guilty in May 1990 of killing Albert Dodson, a drug dealer. LaFaye is currently serving a life sentence at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy in Schuylkill County. The Pennsylvania Innocence Project, a nonprofit corporation housed at Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, is looking into her son’s case, Myra said, with the goal of getting him a new trial. The only way Myra and LaFaye have been able to visit with each other over the last five years is through the Virtual Visitation Program, which allows inmates to communicate with their loved ones through a television, camera and internet hook up — similar to a Skype session. These visits may soon be interrupted as the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections ends the contract with the company that provides these services. Myra and other families with incarcerated loved...
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