The three boys watched as Cornelius Cobbs moved in front of them.
“Step to the left. Pivot. One, two, three.” In this makeshift ring, Cobbs was teaching them the fundamentals of boxing. But another boy he knew from the neighborhood was dead, caught up in the violence plaguing Philadelphia.
Amid the rise in killings, Cobbs and others are exhausting all options to keep kids safe. In this Germantown neighborhood, a new option has emerged: hiring violence “messengers” and “interrupters,” mostly those leaving the prison system, to target at-risk children and young adults.
“They know the life, they know the lifestyle, and therefore they’re in a strong position to really help these young men and women who are deeply engaged in some of this high-risk activity to change,” said Marla Davis Bellamy, the director of Philadelphia CeaseFire at Temple University.
Get Philly local news, weather forecasts, sports and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC Philadelphia newsletters.
CeaseFire will be recruiting six people from the area of Germantown and Chelten avenues to start, Bellamy said. They will be required to make five home visits a month and three phone calls a week to check in on young people and ensure they’re on the right path.
The initiative comes at a time when Philadelphia has seen at least 311 killings this year, almost as many killings as seen at the same time in 2021, which ended up being the year with the most murders on record.
Most of the murders are being perpetrated through guns. A tally by the city controller’s office shows at least 280 fatal shooting victims as of June 27 – and children have not escaped the crossfire. At least 24 minors have been killed and 125 wounded in shootings this year, according to the controller’s office.
Breaking news and the stories that matter to your neighborhood.
CeaseFire Philadelphia hopes to resolve conflicts before they escalate into shootings. The idea is to have interrupters mediate conflicts while outreach workers provide mentorship, working in unison to keep young people on the straight and narrow.
For Cobbs, it’s worth a shot.
“They probably learned the dos and don’ts. And they can give back to the kids like, ‘Yo, don’t get wrapped up in this, or don’t follow the crowd. Do your own thing and do the right thing,’” he said.
There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.