The cruelest month, and the men who are the surest solution
AS JULY approaches, Philadelphia's streets will bear the telltale signs of summer. We'll see fireworks and water ice. We'll see sculls on the Schuylkill. We'll see children playing in open hydrants and lovers along Penn's Landing.
But if statistical trends hold true, the stain of gun violence will mar July's beauty, because, over the past decade, Philadelphia has averaged about 150 shootings each July. That's more shootings than any other month.
As a lifelong Philadelphian, I have heard gunshots interrupt still July nights, and watched neighbors bury sons on gloomy afternoons. I have witnessed the story arc that has placed the blame on black males, thanks to statistics like last year's, which indicate that 84 percent of Philadelphia shooting victims were black, and more than 93 percent were male.
There is a different story, however; a story that is grounded in truth. Black men are not the sole cause of gun violence, but in Philadelphia they represent the surest solution.
I have seen that solution in the eyes of men like Ronald "Pop" Brown, who founded the Ivan "Pick" Brown Memorial Foundation after his son was murdered upon returning home from college. The foundation brings athletic competitions, a winter coat giveaway and year-round school-supply drives to Philadelphia neighborhoods, and does so in memory of Brown's son.
Brown, who still has trouble talking about his son's murder without breaking down, has seen the devastation that gun violence causes and is determined to keep that violence from bringing grief to other families. It's a laudable mission, and Brown is not unique. Hundreds of other black men are working to make a difference in their communities, as well.
Some of those men were honored yesterday with Black Male Engagement awards, just as I was recognized, in 2012, for my work on literacy. The award will serve as encouragement for those men, and the funds that come with the award will help to further their missions. That's as it should be. But after the awards are given and the ceremony is over, the work will have to continue.
It will have to go on because there are parts of our city that are veritable war zones, where abandonment and poverty set the stage for violent crime. In North, Northwest and Southwest Philadelphia, the neighborhoods where most shootings take place, it's hard to look past the numbers to see the black men who are fighting to save their neighborhoods from gun violence.
For most of these men, there is no new-age formula or innovative program. There is no funding and no award. There is simply the presence of those men in the community and their commitment to be fathers to their children.
I saw that kind of commitment when Logan Elementary School held an event for fathers and 100 men showed up. I see that kind of determination in the faces of young men who take their children wherever they go. I see the truth that's been confirmed by a study on American fatherhood.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently studied the habits of all fathers, and found that black men are more involved with their children than their white and Latino counterparts, spending more time feeding, dressing, playing with and reading to their children.
What has fatherhood got to do with gun violence? Everything.
If we are to address the uptick in gun violence we are likely to see this summer, it will take the involvement of fathers. It is fathers, after all, who can best set an example of what manhood looks like. It is fathers, after all, who are the counterbalance to loving mothers. It is fathers, after all, who best know the quandary of young men who are lured toward violence.
Fathers make a difference in the lives of children, no matter where those children live, no matter what they look like and despite their economic condition.
"I believe that's where it begins," said Philadelphia Police Lt. Brian Sprowell, a 22-year veteran who recently became the father of twin boys.
Sprowell, who was honored with a Black Male Engagement award for his work with young men and ex-offenders, said he learned much about fatherhood while watching his former partner's deep commitment to raising his own sons.
"It's about a father having an active role being the leader of his family, and instilling that in his sons," Sprowell told me. "What you put in is what you're going to get out."
I hope we put in enough to address the coming violence. That's the only way to avoid a deadly July.
Solomon Jones' regular column for the Daily News appears Tuesdays.