Philadelphia high school youth are expressing concern about their safety in and out of school as gun violence in the area escalates.
At least nine kids at Simon Gratz High School were fatally shot in the last year –– three of them gunned down in the last month alone, principal Leyondo Dunn told ABC News.
"It's a war zone, like with the drugs, with the guns, with the violence, it's a real war zone. It's a real dog-eat-dog world, like it's not fair for anybody that's soft," one senior at the North Philadelphia school told the outlet. "If you live in Philly, you're going to naturally become hard ... like you're going to have armor, like you'll have a shield."
City data points to a dangerous trend in the city: in the last six years, more than 10,000 Philadelphia residents have been shot –– out of those, three out of four were Black males.
Black males make up 80% of the city's homicide victims in the last year. In child homicides, Black boys were 96% of the city's victims, most of the killings taking place in the city's north side, Action News Data reports.
"it just happens, so even if you do really sit down and try to process, it's really no time for that," a rising senior told ABC News.
"You still have to think about, 'What can I do to make sure I'm not in that situation?' or 'What can I do to make sure that my future and my life are set so I could get out of the city?'"
With such a dire situation, principals and community members are looking to take action.
Akea Williams, a Philly native and mental health professional, launched the "Therapy over Revenge" program over the summer to provide support to those who've been directly impacted by gun violence. Since July, she's seen over 350 people.
"They're kind of in a point where they're afraid to go to school, or they're afraid to even leave the house," Williams explained of her patients who are also students. "And if they are not afraid, or pretending like they're not afraid, they're going out and they're armed and ready for war."
City Council member Kenyatta Johnson helped established the Special Committee on Gun Violence in 2017 and now serve as its chair. Johnson, and others, are seeking "to invest in areas that have had a lack of investment over the past several years," and ensuring there's "quality after-school programs, quality job opportunities for young people," Johnson said, noting that addressing mental health and providing trauma-informed resources are key to reducing the level of gun violence in the city.
Principal Dunn acknowledges that the issue existed before current city leadership took office, but says "we as a community have to recognize that we are at war with guns, and right now, we're not winning that war, and it's going to take every single leader ... to come to the table and prioritize this issue and do all that we can to protect and keep young people safe."
Reading about Black trauma can have an impact on your mental health. If you or someone you know need immediate mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor. These additional resources are also available:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255
The National Alliance on Mental Illness 1-800-950-6264
The Association of Black Psychologists 1-301-449-3082
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America 1-240-485-1001
For more mental health resources, click HERE.