The gun violence epidemic in the United States has been described as a uniquely American problem, with calls for increased gun control or common sense legislation abounding after each highly publicized mass shooting that rocks the country.
Despite the unmistakable tragedy of mass shootings, the vast majority of gun violence in America occurs as isolated incidents, disproportionately affecting racial and ethnic minorities.
Data show that non-Hispanic Black adolescent boys were 21 times more likely to die from a gun homicide in 2020 than their white counterparts. Guns kill 30 Black Americans every day and injure over 100 more, with rates increasing in major cities.
These trends are all too familiar for Philadelphians, prompting some to take matters into their own hands.
Since 1991, the Institute for the Development of African American Youth (IDAAY) has assisted young, underserved members of the community in breaking free from the cycle of violence and crime through education and job opportunities.
- Archye Leacock leads the organization, which is based in Northwest Philadelphia, one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods.
Leacock immigrated to the United States from Trinidad and Tobago in 1972 and has dedicated his life to assisting at-risk youth. He is also legally blind.
Leacock, a graduate of Overbrook School for the Blind and Temple University in Philadelphia, began his public service career at the North Philly institution. While pursuing his PhD in public administration, Leacock taught a few classes at the university, where he noticed a lack of minority students.
Tutoring ended for the summer in May of 1990, but Leacock told the seven regular students to return in September and to bring one friend with them. When Leacock and Robinson returned to Temple that fall, they were greeted by a crowd of 200 teenagers.
Leacock was brought to the United States by his mother to seek treatment for an eye injury sustained during a cricket match in Trinidad.
Reflecting on the opportunities and support he received as a child from the blind community and his mother, Leacock emphasized the significance of providing similar resources to other vulnerable youth.
IDAAY offers a variety of programs aimed at addressing the underlying causes of youth crime and violence. Employment opportunities, community engagement, and youth programs have been shown in studies to reduce crime rates by fostering a sense of belonging and establishing structure for free time.
According to local media, Philadelphia will have the highest homicide rate since 1990, at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic. As of last fall, the city had an average of 11 homicides per week.
According to Leacock, Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic is “worse than ever before.” However, transforming juvenile justice from a punitive to a more reform-focused process is one of IDAAY’s top priorities.
Conflict resolution, trauma therapy, and effective decision making are among the skills taught at Don’t Fall Down, and the Institute also offers support services to youth awaiting adjudication through its Intensive In-Home Supervision program.
Funding remains a challenge for IDAAY, as it does for nearly all non-profit organizations. Poverty and crime throughout the region complicate efforts to improve the lives of these youth, and IDAAY is not as effective as it could be due to a lack of resources and support.
Individuals entering IDAAY must be searched with a metal detecting wand. Shootings on the Institute’s block are not uncommon, and when they occur, the building is placed on lockdown. Mentees are afraid to leave the building and take public transportation to and from programs, according to Leacock.
He emphasized that reshaping the public’s negative perception of minority youth is also required for any significant change to occur. “We have to be positive with our young people even when things are bad.” They are looking for a leader. They’re looking for direction. When they don’t get it on the block or the street, they have this toughness, roughness, and violence to fall back on.”