Strawberry Mansion High School basketball coach Matthew Johnson has experienced the effects of violence firsthand and has friends and family members doing time for violent crimes.
But as a coach and a mentor in the Sankofa Passages Program, Johnson, 23, is determined to help break the cycle of violence in the rough North Philadelphia community where he grew up. Yesterday, during a rally and march he organized, about 100 people took to the streets in a demonstration against the bloodshed that's all too common in many of the city's neighborhoods.
"We're in trouble right now, but we've got a problem that we can fix," said Johnson, a 2006 graduate of Strawberry Mansion High who went on to graduate with a degree in accounting from Gwynedd-Mercy College. "We need to step up and fix it."
The demonstrators Johnson organized gathered at the corner of 33rd and Diamond streets around 4:30 p.m. and marched east to Strawberry Mansion High, where Johnson and Sheriff Jewell Williams spoke to the crowd about starting within the community to put an end to violence and blight.
"I've been out here since 1978 talking about anti-violence," Williams told the auditorium filled with adults, children and teens. "How come our neighborhoods look the way they look?"
Latinya Channer, Strawberry Mansion High's JROTC senior army instructor, said part of the idea behind the rally was to create strength in numbers among the students.
"It's a concern, but a lot of people don't talk about it because they're afraid of being labeled as a snitch," Channer said. "They don't like what's going on, and they see it escalating … We see and feel it manifest in the hallways and classrooms. Kids are receptive to that as a collective."