These Philly Gun Violence Activists Are Not Giving Up On Saving Lives

Brandon Chastang, better known as B. McFly, interviews several prominent figures in Philadelphia’s gun violence prevention community in a series of videos he recently produced for the Credible Messenger Reporting Project here at the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting. WHYY gun violence prevention reporter Sammy Caiola was the professional partner on this project and Chris Mansfield was the Credible Messenger video producer. Scroll down read more below.

[Apply now to participate in the Credible Messenger Reporting Project]

B. McFly interviews Suleiman Hassan of Soldiers for Recovery in this first video in a series he recently produced for our Credible Messenger Reporting Project. They discuss intersections between addiction, mental health, trauma and violence plus their views on solutions and some upcoming efforts.
B. McFly, interviews media host and women’s advocate Zarinah Lomax. They discuss the needs of gun violence co-victims and survivors after the media stops calling; their need for safe spaces and acceptance; the normalization of violence and addressing loss though storytelling and art therapy; and a vision for unity in Philadelphia.
B. McFly interviews youth mentor Ant Brown. They discuss firsthand experiences, creating a nonprofit and providing programs and resources; financial literacy and group economics; understanding grief, trauma and addictions; and making connections, intervening and mentoring.
WHYY gun violence prevention reporter Sammy Caiola interviews longtime political activist Jamal Johnson. They discuss the driving factors behind gun violence; how official responses have compared with addiction, COVID and other crises; his hopes, vision and activities; and the need for community involvement and how individuals can take action.

‘What Gives You Hope?’: Four Philly Activists Share Gun Violence Solutions

By Brandon Chastang (aka B. McFly)

At the corner of Kensington and Allegheny avenues, people walk sluggishly. Those who aren’t begging for food keep their heads hung low, weighed down by exhaustion or drug-induced haze. 

This is one of the most impoverished parts of Philadelphia, and drug addiction runs rampant. People are living on the streets, under highways and in parks or vacant lots. There are needles, pieces of garbage, rodents and bottles of overdose antidote Narcan all over the place.

As someone in recovery from drug addiction, it pained me to see people using and selling drugs, often right in front of parked police cars. The whole scene made me feel hopeless.

But then I met Suleiman Hassan, a recovered drug user who now serves as a mentor and lifeline to people in the throes of addiction, Suleiman is out in Kensington almost every day, trying to show people that the rest of the world has given up on that he cares. His aim is to get them off the streets, before they’re stuck with a bullet or fire one themselves.

“I dive in with my program, just to show the young men and young women that there’s another way to go about it,” he said. “Which curbs – maybe at a minute level – but it helps that individual not to go out and commit a crime with a gun.”

After my own recovery journey from substance abuse, which you can hear about on my podcast, I became an advocate for preventing gun violence. So I wanted to take some time, in advance of the expected summer surge in gun violence, to tell the stories of Hassan and other leaders who I consider community champions on this issue. Given all of the trauma and stress Philadelphians are facing due to the high shooting and murder rates, it seemed important to highlight some of the positive change happening across the city. I felt the stories of these boots-on-the-ground activists would bring some needed inspiration to residents who worry the shootings will never end.

Unfortunately, my family and I are victims of gun violence. My father, my mother, my son and I were all shot. Where I grew up, gun violence and drug addiction were the norm. Since I was a product of both, I felt  an obligation to educate the public on why gun violence occurs and how we can solve it.

That’s why I decided to produce a series of video profiles for the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting’s Credible Messenger Project. The initiative pairs community journalists like myself with professional reporters and editors, who serve as mentors. 

I chose my four subjects based on their commitment to preventing gun violence, their credibility in the community and their innovative ideas for the future. These are people who give up their time to help those at risk of harm, confronting major issues such as mental health, drug addiction, trauma, lack of education and poverty.

I chose longtime political activist Jamal Johnson, media host and women’s advocate Zarinah Lomax, musician and youth mentor Ant Brown and motivational speaker Suleiman Hassan to interview.

While speaking with them, I heard calls to action for everyone to wake up to the problem and get involved, plans for new summertime programs to steer potential shooters toward a safer path and ideas for how to use the arts to prevent violence. I heard the passion in their voices and saw the dedication in their faces. 

I learned that there are so many approaches to take to spread gun violence awareness and combat the problem. We need to use music and social media to spread awareness, and flood the community with events to keep people busy, as well as allow community leaders into public schools to give positive messages.

Like the community champions in this story, I’m hopeful that there is a brighter future for Philadelphia if we all work together on the same goals. 

-B. McFly

This project was edited by Sammy Caiola at WHYY, with support from the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting.

[Apply now to participate in the Credible Messenger Reporting Project]