I live in the Bottom. You can walk into a store and get tobacco without the employees asking for your ID. Tobacco can kill people, so stores selling illegally to underage kids is a huge problem. In underserved communities, the accessibility of these items is harmful to youth.
I remember watching Boyz in the Hood and hearing Furious talk about how people put gun shops and smoke shops in Black neighborhoods because they want us to keep killing each other. By putting these stores within reach, the government and those in power who put these dangerous stores near our homes weaken our communities. They help tell a story that begins to come true.
No matter where you go, there is always going to be a gang there and a corner where people are hanging out ready to shoot. Why do gangs exist? That is a hard question. Violence is everywhere.
Poverty and oppression contribute a lot of violence. The government has played a role in maintaining cycles of poverty and oppression and therefore has a responsibility to create policies that correct historical wrongs.
While anything can happen anywhere, if respect is visible in our spaces, bad things do not happen as often. Even our schools are not safe, where security guards are few and far between. For a neighborhood to be safe and respected, we need to see more community gardens, fewer food desserts, and more rec centers. Level Up and James L. Wright Rec Center, for example, offer safe spaces for youth.
At my rec center, we won the basketball championship. The championship and going undefeated brought us together. From my experience, violence is less likely to happen in these spaces. Dance, sports, and music bring people together. If people have a space to talk their problems out, we would see less killing. If people have a reason to unite, we come together.
We need less smoke shops and more grocery stores.
Less violence and more peace.
We need better schools, and clean streets.
We need justice for Black neighborhoods.
Semaj James is a rising sophomore at West Philly High. He is a 2023 intern at Civic Engagement Summer, a program at the Netter Center under the University of Pennsylvania.