We've become all too accustomed to the news of a child losing their lives to gun violence. Families shattered, school communities destroyed, and trauma raging in the hearts and minds of young people.
Gun violence is taking away every last chance for a kid to be a kid. They watch their brothers, sisters, cousins, classmates, teammates become victims.
On August 17, over 100 shots were fired at the Sheperd Rec Center, home of the West Philly Panthers. Hundreds of kids who once frequented the center for youth football and cheerleading programs have now strayed away due to the tragedy that struck their space – a space where they're supposed to feel safe.
"I come from the same background as those kids, and I know what it takes to get out of those situations," running back Miles Sanders said. "We're in a time in this country where a lot of the youth is at risk right now. If we want change, we gotta rely on the youth, because it starts with the youth."
Sanders and wide receiver A.J. Brown visited the site of the shooting this past Tuesday in an effort to reimagine the space as one that is safe and full of hope for the future.
They spoke to hundreds of kids, working with Valencia Peterson, the founder and executive director of Open Door Abuse Awareness Prevention (ODAAP). The discussion was centered around character development and violence prevention.
"There is a hardness that is occurring with our young people – a lack of empathy, and a hardness because of what's going on in the city, wherever you have a violent act," Peterson said.
A quote by Frederick Douglas is featured on ODAAP's website. It reads: "It is easier to build strong children than to repair a broken man."
Peterson is devoted to getting to the root, empowering kids to be open, to discuss their innermost thoughts and feelings, so that through expression, they can release the traumas and the hardships they've faced.
"The kids will come back," Peterson added. "It's how they're coming back that's important. But they will come back."
Brown and Sanders drew on their personal experiences and journeys to truly connect with the kids and hopefully provide guidance.
"I feel like every day we wake up, we get a chance, we get a choice," Brown said. "And I chose to make the right decisions."
Sanders added, "I was just trying to make sure they know that I'm not just there because the Eagles asked me to do this. I'm here because I care and I wanted to do this. Just trying to show them that there's a way. We came from the same background, same adversity, and we are here."
For more about the Eagles' work in the community when it comes to the gun violence epidemic, please visit EndPhillyGunViolence.com.
A.J. Brown, Miles Sanders, the Eagles Cheerleaders, and SWOOP visited the Sheperd Recreation Center in West Philadelphia on Tuesday, a site where a shooting left the neighborhood questioning what areas are safe.