The story of Patricia Reichner, a loving mother willing to do anything to protect her son, Northeast football player Omar Speights, from violence in Philadelphia — including sending him across the country — has resonated with so many folks in and around the area that I wanted to share a few of the responses that have landed in my inbox.
Of course, an unproductive few made themselves known in other corners of the web, too, but I'm sure you can find their opinions elsewhere. Below, you'll also find what I think was a productive exchange with a reader whose thought I felt needed to be challenged. Most importantly, at the end of this post you'll also find a message of gratitude from Reichner herself, which she sent via text message after I sent her a few of the following responses.
I also hope that the reaction doesn't just stop at thoughtful emails, but instead continues on into actionable engagement that helps bring about meaningful change. For my part, I will continue to tell these and similar stories when I find them (and more). If you have one of your own or know of someone who does, I'm all ears (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Some responses have been edited for length and/or to withhold personal or identifiable information.)
"I frequently ponder, "What can we do to stop this situation?" I am a retired teacher of the safe suburbs. We lived in the city until we adopted two sons, moving out for better schools.
As I read your article, I thought about all the refugees trying to get into this country, escaping violence and gang danger. And how odd to think that one must move from Philadelphia for the same reasons. I wish there was a solution."
"Great story.. Who knows how many families feel the same way."
"…As a parent I can only imagine the pain these mothers have suffered – either losing a son or sending one across the country out of fear."
"Your article today was a difficult read.
Why the African American communities aren t marching daily to City Hall and demanding change is beyond me."
My response, in full (minus the reader's name, of course): "First, thank you for reading and taking the time to respond! It was also even difficult for me to read the finished product after it was posted. The mother's words are so powerful.
And, I think I understand what you're trying to say. And I choose to think it comes from a well-intentioned place. But I would first say that everyone in Philly should march and demand change (on many things). Violence in the city isn't just a black thing (I know that's not what you said). Next, black folks have been marching and demanding change throughout the course of US history. Black folks in Philly have done so recently. But there are systems in place that sustain themselves by keeping things the same (though Philly has made progress; still a wayyyyys to go). And there are individuals/corporations/institutions etc, that remain lucrative and powerful by keeping things the same. The idea that black folks can just mobilize and force change, to me, assumes that the power to effect that change rests solely in the hands of black folks. It doesn't. And I don't intend any of this to chastise you or attack you. Just wanted to introduce a different perspective. What you do with it after that is entirely up to you. Again, thanks for reading, and try to stay cool in this heat!"
Reader's response (in full):
Point well taken. Well in order to make positive change, my guess is that it starts at the ballot box.
Voting for candidates who want serious gun restrictions is probably a place to start.
In my advancing years I've come to realize that people are just people. They have the same fears, hopes and desires as everyone else. It pains me to see what s happening in cities like Philadelphia and Chicago. The fact that a Mother has to send her child to Oregon to keep him alive is a travesty.
You 're right, it s not a Black versus White issue but an issue of what s a decent society going to look like.
Thanks for educating me. Your further insights are appreciated and recognized.
"I read with sadness your article in today's paper. In my suburban world parents send their kids to other high schools with delusions that their child receiving an unlikely athletic scholarship. The violence that faces inner city children is virtually non existent in our West Chester community.
I travel the world and our nation has more to offer than any other but our inability to keep our children safe brings me sadness. Of course neither you or I have the answers to this complex issue
I will have my teenagers read your article. Thank you"
"…but today's story about a Mother's Plight, was a real honest kick in the stomach.
I was that emotional. In Philadelphia, in 2018, a mother has to go to the most extreme choice to keep her son alive.
I'm a city kid. I lived in Kensington (now the Badlands), and then West Philadelphia. I took four pieces of SEPTA transportation to get to Dobbins Vocation-Technical HS at 22nd and Lehigh—and felt safe at all times.
Today you have written the most honest, truthful, beautiful, emotional, and saddest story that I've ever read—thank you…"
"What a story! Thanks for telling it. The mom saw her son's life in danger from the get go, from the abortionist to the streets of Philly."
"…Your craft, and you're good at it, make a difference for those that care. That's the way I was taught by my father and it's the way my wife and I are raising our children. They need to watch their back, take care of their family and friends, look out for the little guy; for he/she can never feel forgotten, and never stop doing the best they can for their team and country. Keep fighting the good fight and have a great Labor Day weekend."
"The one from the (person) in Kensington brought tears to my eyes. I really hope that my speaking out will really help to make people realize how bad it is, and we need help."