Vanessa Rodriguez-Matos, a senior at Esperanza Academy, organized and led this march to speak out and raise awareness about the issue of gun violence in Philadelphia. (Photo: Alliyah Maduro)

On a dreary March Saturday, more than 20 young people and members of youth-serving organizations endured the pouring rain as they marched from City Hall to Hunting Park. Vanessa Rodriguez-Matos, a senior at Esperanza Academy, organized and led this march to speak out and raise awareness about the issue of gun violence in Philadelphia.

According to data from the City of Philadelphia, there were a total of 1,666 victims of gun violence in the city in 2023; 1,293 of those shootings were nonfatal, and 373 were fatal. 92% of those victims were Black or Hispanic. The impact of these statistics is deeply felt in our primarily black and brown community. 

Vanessa has personally felt the devastating effects of gun violence; it took her best friend’s life in December 2022. “Losing my best friend allowed me to open my life up to doing things that others haven’t accomplished yet, taking the first steps on this journey of creating a protest for myself and others who have been impacted.” Because of her own loss, as well as the losses that so many others have experienced, Vanessa decided to speak up and take action.

(Photo: Alliyah Maduro)

The group marched for two and a half hours, pausing at Broad and Erie to yell out the names of those who have been killed in the last 5 years. “We had mothers and fathers of those who have been impacted by gun violence and had them share their experiences and stories.” Speaking of the impact that this event had on her, Vanessa said: “It made me cry multiple times that people are losing their lives every day and most of what I hear is the youth getting murdered. I’m afraid for my life, going outside and wondering if it’s my last time.”

Darrien Johnson, the CEO & Founder of The Community Curator, shared this moving speech with the group of marchers: “Every lost heartbeat echoes the silent scream of a future stolen. We mourn the youth silenced by the merciless roar of gun violence, their dreams shattered, their voices forever silenced. In the haunting silence of each fallen youth, we confront the devastating toll of senseless gun violence.

Their laughter silenced, their potential forever dimmed, they are the tragic reminders of a society failing its young.

Let their names not be forgotten but serve as beacons for change. We must unite, and we must demand action, for every life lost is a future stolen. This is why we march; there’s no time like the present to care for one another.”

(Photo: Alliyah Maduro)

Vanessa believes that a key factor contributing to the violence we see in our communities is a lack of love and support for our young people. She expressed, “Once a young person sees they have love, they’ll then ask for support. Young kids are asking for help, and no one is helping them, so that’s why they go out and commit violent acts: so, they can get that support even if that’s in jail. It’s always going to be difficult to get a young person to open up… But once they hear that you truly love them and support them, they are an open book.”

More events are in the works, including a memorial balloon release to honor the memory of those who have been killed and to continue raising awareness about the prevalence of gun violence. Vanessa wants to see others use their voices to speak out as well: “If you are the victim or are witness to violence, tell someone. Take all violence and abuse seriously. Remember, putting others down doesn’t raise you up. Take a stand. Be an individual. Take back the power.”

(Photos: Jasmine Michelle Rice)


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