Will Parks loves Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is home, and it is definitely where Parks' heart has been even during his time at the University of Arizona and in the NFL with the Denver Broncos.
Philly is in his Twitter and Instagram handles (@PhillyWill11) and it is forever woven into his story. But as much as Parks has an unconditional love for the city, he is all too familiar with its dark side.
Parks grew up in North Philadelphia, where poverty and crime have unfortunately gone hand in hand for decades, and candlelight vigils and funerals are merely normal social gatherings. Those issues are not exclusive to North Philadelphia and they are seemingly getting worse, as homicides are up in the city 31 percent compared to this time last year. Philadelphia currently has the second-highest murder rate among the country's 10 largest cities in 2020.
It has reached a crisis point, according to Parks, who expressed to reporters Sunday how much consternation the recent rise of gun violence has caused him. Even on the other side of the country, Parks has tried to help, but returning to Philadelphia will hopefully allow him to be more hands-on in curtailing crimes that he himself has become all too familiar with.
"That's a pandemic within itself," Parks told reporters.
Even while talking to reporters Sunday, he mentioned that he had just lost a friend of his to gun violence two weeks ago. Parks revealed this in a rather matter-of-fact manner. Probably because he has unfortunately dealt with this type of tragedy so many times before.
Parks witnessed gun violence starting at the tender age of just 7 years old and in 2018, lost his grand-uncle, Barry Parks, to gun violence during a botched robbery attempt while on his way to work at a Waste Management facility. He was 55 years old.
Parks, who was in Denver playing for the Broncos at the time, wanted to return home to mourn the death, but opted to stay and grieve on the practice field instead. He still wanted to take some form of action, though, and he did by partnering with Philly CeaseFire, an anti-violence organization based in North Philadelphia. Parks represented Philly CeaseFire for My Cause My Cleats and still works with the group to this day.
"We can't keep talking about it. We got to do something about it," Parks said.
Parks' action-oriented approach will be especially challenging during the pandemic. COVID-19 has already hurt the city financially in a variety of ways, but it has also all but wiped out fall sports for hundreds of student-athletes in the area.
In Parks' mind, this could create a serious issue for Philadelphia. In an effort to intervene, Parks has been in contact with people he knows who have lost their football seasons to offer words of encouragement. He is also looking to organize a drive to provide school supplies to students who have been forced to learn virtually.
"Some of these kids, all they have is football," Parks explained. "Some of these kids, going out to the football field or going to school, that's the way that some of those kids eat out here," Parks said.
Parks made sure to note that when he talks about the plight of these children, he is speaking from experience.
"These kids don't have football, so now you look at it like, 'What's next?'" he asked. "We all know what's going on outside right now. These kids are just killing each other left and right, number two in the murder rate, it's unbelievable."
What is believable is that Parks is doing everything he can to be an agent for change. It comes from his unwavering love of the city that made him who he is today.