PHILADELPHIA—In the midst of Philadelphia’s most violent year in decades, youth spread out across Philadelphia to understand how their peers are navigating gun violence in an increasingly unpredictable world. The survey results may not be surprising, but they reveal the rippling impact of shootings: 88% of youth were worried that gun violence could injure a friend or loved one.

Founding members of the youth-led P.E.A.C.E. Collective, a coalition empowering young people in gun violence prevention advocacy, partnered with CeaseFirePA Education Fund to survey youth on their experiences. It became a collective story on the impact of gun violence in their lives.

“The city of brother love is bleeding from gun violence and youth internalize that on a daily basis,” said Destiny Jackson, president of the P.E.A.C.E. Collective. “We can’t grow into the future of the city when we are worrying every day about whether a sibling will return home, a friend will show up at the basketball court or a parent will return home from work. It is oppressive.”

Youth were asked how many times they witnessed gun violence, how often they hear about shootings, how concerned they are about safety for themselves and those they love, and the toll that violence was taking. Vast majorities, unfortunately, feel like they are “holding their breath” from their emotional distress over the health and safety of their loved ones. Findings included:

  • Over half have been a witness to gun violence at least once. A quarter of them have seen gun violence 4 or more times.
  • While over two-thirds of youth are concerned for their own personal health and safety, even more of them worry about the health and safety of their loved ones (88%).
  • 80% feel there isn’t enough being done to support young people who are impacted by gun violence.

After the survey, many respondents discussed how the impact of gun violence ripples out from the shooting, affecting the mental and emotional health of those close to it. P.E.A.C.E. Collective members see this survey as one step in their efforts to be part of change and being heard.

“Youth bear the brunt of gun violence in the city, but we’re not asked about it enough and we’re not included in the conversations for solutions enough,” said P.E.A.C.E. Collective founder Ramier Jones. Our experience with it and our insight on it is critical to crafting solutions and now we’re stepping up for a bigger seat at the table.”

More than 200 surveys were collected through peer-to-peer outreach at parks and playgrounds, community centers, and online in the summer and fall of 2020. While not a scientific sampling, the survey provides a snapshot of how youth are feeling about gun violence and its effect on their sense of wellbeing. The findings are bleak, but there’s an opportunity here for youth to play a key role in change.

“The ongoing tragedy of youth homicides will continue to damage a whole generation if we don’t act quickly and forcefully,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Education Fund’s Executive Director who worked with the P.E.A.C.E. Collective on the survey. “No longer will the youth wait for their time to save the lives of their loved ones, and that’s good. Because we need them at the table if we’re going to stop this epidemic.”

Facing the truth about gun violence in PA