In response to community outcry about continual gun violence and recent allegations of police misconduct, the Chester Public Affairs Department held two special listening sessions at City Hall on Monday.
“This is a great turnout,” said Jonathan Abdur-Rahim King, Chester City liaison, as his colleague, Nicole Cogdell, led the discussion.
About 20 residents sat in the computer lab at the morning session brainstorming about resources their neighborhoods could use to help stem violence.
Due to the sensitive nature of the content being discussed by residents, the city requested that names of attendees not be published and pictures not be taken by the press.
“We really want it to work and we don’t want you to be scared away from doing what you got to do as far as helping us save our community,” explained Councilwoman Elizabeth Williams.
The Community Liaison Team has been touring the city for about a year, meeting with various neighborhoods to help coordinate Town Watch groups and information workshops throughout the city. They also discussed ways to increase getting the word out to other neighborhoods.
“If there’s a community that we did not mention and you want to reengage that community and you are willing to help by hosting a listening session, let’s have a conversation,” said Cogdell to the guests.
Some of the attendees suggested networking parties and email lists that are frequently updated with community events. Others recommended figuring out a way to use social media websites more efficiently but the meeting took a dynamic turn when two young people present shared what their experiences have been like while on the streets of Chester City.
A young woman in her early 20’s said she was not confident that anything could really be done to curb the violence.
“I used to be out there in the streets, but it’s not safe. I couldn’t even tell you what to do about it,” she said somberly. “There’s so many different beefs in different parts of the community that people have going on. It grew so much that I don’t know how you can stop that.”
A young man present echoed her sentiments and shared his personal fears about his own mortality. He said running drugs and robbing people has been a part of his life in order to survive. He wanted out, but just didn’t know where to begin.
“My friends and I don’t want to be here. They’re dying left and right,” he said, clearly trusting those present with his exposed emotions. “I know I’m not going to make it in the city. I have a feelin’ I’m going to die.”
His vulnerability drew a heartfelt reaction from fellow residents who began inquiring about what they could do for him. King says it’s moments like that one that listening sessions are for.
“It doesn’t mean that he has to be right or wrong. He has a right to give us a perception of what’s going on,” said King.
King and a few other men present gave the young man their contact information and promised to help him transition.
“I’ve sat in the chair you’re in. I know what you’re talkin’ about. What I’m trying to say is, what are you willing to do to transition to the right side?” asked King. “I think you need a mentor or a life coach. You need somebody to aid or assist you.”