20 June 2007

philly's troubled youth

According to the Philly Metro paper the city Report Card 2007 (conducted by Philadelphia Safe and Sound) brings bad tidings.

The Report Card outlines some of the following statistics:
Each day 2.8 young people between the ages of 7 and 24 suffered gunshot wounds in Philadelphia in 2006.

154 young people between the ages of 18 and 24 were murdered last year, a 23% rise since 2005.

There was a 27% increase in the number of juveniles arrested on firearms charges between 2005 and 2006.

47% of children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight.

11.3 babies out of every 1,000 in Philadelphia died while still in infancy in 2005.

An estimated 25,000 children were without health insurance in 2006.

Only 57.4% of current ninth graders are expected to graduate high school in four years.
More statistics are available in the article or in the full 2007 Report Card.

Philadelphia has undergone tremendous change for the better in so many ways in the past decade. But it's not clear that this change is affecting all populations equally and, for those most vulnerable at the margins, though there are improvements in some areas, in other areas thing seem to have gotten worse.

I remember attending an event in the Mayor's Reception Room at City Hall a number of years ago, late in Ed Rendell's second term. Buzz Bissinger was reading from his wonderful tale of Philadelphia, A Prayer for the City.

After the reading, a teary-eyed Mayor Rendell spoke movingly of his time in office and compared this great city to an emergency room patient suffering with both a gunshot wound and an aggressive cancer. The Mayor suggested that the gunshot wound had been sewn up and the bleeding staunched, with the patient recovering nicely - but in the end, the cancer could still prove deadly. As Mayor, Rendell confessed that he thought he'd done well with the wound, but that he'd been a failure with the cancer.

A renewed downtown, a growing population in the city center, new businesses and new housing, a vibrant night life, a lively arts scene, and a functioning convention center had all worked to bind up the wound. But the cancer of poverty, violence, a collapsing educational system, blight, and so forth remains.

Bissinger's book suggests that there is hope for the cancer, but it is a hope grounded in religious faith, fervent prayer, and active local church communities - and Mayor Rendell agreed.

So, with the release of the 2007 Report Card, the cancer faces us again. I'm sure there are a variety of policy decisions that can support healing and renewal. I look forward to seeing what sort of policy will come from the creativity and intelligence of Michael Nutter, who will likely be our next mayor.

Yet, I also think Bissinger's insight is essentially correct. Urban cancer is not unlike the demon-possessed boy at the foot of Mt. Tabor - an affliction only remedied by fasting and prayer. May God continue to raise up faithful churches in the city to pray and to serve.