The idea is a good one, bringing jobs to some of Philadelphia's hottest corners. It's much more immediate and potentially impactful than most ideas floating around. So, no wonder it's gotten a lot of attention already, deservedly so.
That the creative effort is being led by police in partnership with community organizations, now that's where it gets a little tricky. Because I'll just give you a moment to envision how cops traveling with an entourage promising all sorts of things — including 100 jobs — might go over with people who have many reasons not to trust police.
You'll get some people to sign on — especially since the Southwest Police Division has partnered with solid organizations and done a lot of legwork to let people know they are coming and will keep coming every first Friday of the month. But some of the people who might most need the help aren't going anywhere near cops, even those supposedly bearing the gift of potential employment.
"Hell, no," three men sitting on the stairs of an empty building at 61st and Irving said in different ways this week when I stopped to tell them that not far from where they sat police were leading the charge to get people employed.
It didn't matter that all three, a 17-year-old and two 20-somethings, were looking for work.
"I won't be there," said Mike, oldest of the three. "I don't trust them enough. Nowhere near enough."
Mike, who is 28, asked that his last name not be used. He has recently gotten off house arrest for drug and gun charges. The father of two children, ages 3 and 8 months, had been applying to several jobs each day. He hasn't heard back from anywhere.
So, what did he have to lose? I pressed. I told him the effort, called Turning a New Corner, was being led by a young cop, Officer G. Lamar Stewart, divisional community relations officer for the Southwest Police Division. Officer Stewart grew up in the neighborhood. He seemingly gets that there is a lot of work ahead to rebuild trust between the police and the community, and he just might be of a generation of cops who have the background, the desire, and the power to change the way things are.
Mike wasn't convinced.
"I think it's bogus," he said, the two others nodding in agreement beside him. "I don't think it's real, to be honest. Coming from where I come from, ain't no nice cops. They not trying to help you get off the streets. Like they're disrespecting you even if they don't even know what you're doing.
"So why would I even think a bunch of people who just randomly disrespect me as a grown man like want to help me out all of a sudden? Don't even make sense."
Part of the problem, he said, is that even when people are well-intentioned, they're almost always looking in from the outside, offering short-term, feel-good fixes to long-term problems.
Mike was blunt. "I grew up f— up."
"Me and my brothers …" He let out a bitter laugh. "We had to share a pack of noodles. … In my house we had to literally take an extension cord, plug it up to a couple extension cords and knock on the neighbor's door, 'Can we get some electric?' So when you grow up like I grew up and then all you see is your surrounding area, it influences you. …
"And now all of a sudden, people who were supposed to help you but didn't come around saying they want to be good, no strings attached. Ain't nobody hearing that."
After I posted a short video on Twitter of Mike, Jondhi Harrell, founder of the Center for Returning Citizens, one of the community partners, tweeted this message for Mike:
"Helen/tell Mike he can trust me/as a formerly incarcerated brotha w 25 years in the Feds I will be out there on the corner with my staff/TCRCphilly is working with Officer Stewart & the Southwest Division #2CreateChange if you don't trust the police/understood/trust the OGs"
I turned my car around. His friends were gone, but Mike was still on the corner. I showed him the message, and told him I'd wait while he called Harrell.
Mike listened intently as Harrell told a little about himself, and said that while he understood Mike's suspicions, he really believed in the effort.
Mike told him he appreciated the call. But he wasn't budging.
Harrell said he understood; he'd go to Mike, or if he'd prefer, Mike could come to his office.
Trust me, Harrell offered.
At that, Mike perked up.