By Antoinette Haren
Chester is a small city of 33,000 in Delaware County, Pa., while its neighbor, Philadelphia, has 1.5 million residents. Yet, Chester has been plagued with gun violence like Philadelphia until recently.
In 2017, the Chester Community Coalition got the green light to serve the city suffering from gun violence.
“Since the coalition formed and has worked with the Chester Partnership for Safe Neighborhoods, gun violence has gone down,” said Alexia Clarke, the Chester Community Coalition director.
The coalition serves shooting victims, their families, and the community of Chester through outreach services.
Clarke earned her master’s degree in public health from Drexel University. She has over 17 years’ experience in community health and prevention that includes outreach.”
Clarke wants citizens of Chester to know “our program offers a place of safety and love.” Residents can get help for trauma caused by gun violence and help victims rebuild their lives and community.
Clarke said strengthening the community and teaching self-care is the
approach helping victims.
However, Chester’s gun violence has gone up again. Clarke believes it is due to the pandemic and its economic effects.
Q. What roles do you play with The Chester Community Coalition?
A. I do a little bit of everything. I fundraise, do outreach to victims, and run our social media sites.
Q. What made you want to get involved with a gun violence prevention program?
A. As a Black woman, I want Black people to be healthy and happy. I wanted to be able to make a difference on a micro-level.
Q. How did this organization come together?
A. In 2016, I helped conduct research that showed needs in the community that led to the formation of the coalition. We started receiving grants and were up and running in 2017.
Q. What makes this program different from other gun violence prevention programs?
A. Our program supports those who have already experienced trauma from gun violence, while other programs are out in the street trying to prevent situations from escalating. Our organization is one step away from being in the streets. We have counseling services and provide financial and housing assistance to victims and their families.
Q. Would you say the youth in Chester need more programs like the bigger inner cities such as Philadelphia?
A. It is not a question of needing more programs, but rather the community needing to be made aware of existing programs and do more networking to get the youth involved.
Q. How do you gain the victims’ trust to get them the services they need?
A. We have a strict policy on confidentiality. Also, it is often through word of mouth after we have worked with the victims and or their families.
Q. What is the hardest part for you in your experience with gun violence intervention?
A. The hardest part is that I can’t fix an individual. I can only provide the support and skills. I had to learn to step back and separate my emotions because it was not my experience.
Q. Your organization has helped bring down gun violence in Chester. What has been the influence on the community of Chester now?
A. Well, in 2017 we had a 20% reduction in gun violence compared to 2018. In 2017 there were 29 murders; in 2018, there were 19. Our numbers are back up right now. I think it is due to economic stress directly linked to the pandemic, as seen in the increased number of domestic violence cases.