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Community-based violence intervention programs have been used for twenty years to reduce violence in communities by as much as 60%, but they require funding and commitment. Read more about how CVI programs work here.

The Roca Impact Institute is offering communities and institutions that are committed to ending gun violence a coaching program to learn their CBT-based approach to violence intervention. You can learn more and support their work here.

Drexel University’s Center for Nonviolence and Social Justice operates Helping Hurt People in Philadelphia for survivors and witnesses to violence, from ages 8 to 35. Read more about the program and support them here.

The CDC offers comprehensive resources and information on preventing gun violence that includes data and education, research on effective solutions, and promoting collaboration across sectors to address the problem.

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Citizen of the Week: John Solomon of Endangered Kind

Lifelong North Philadelphian John Solomon uses his own experiences to help young people in his community escape the cycle of gun violence

Citizen of the Week: John Solomon of Endangered Kind

Lifelong North Philadelphian John Solomon uses his own experiences to help young people in his community escape the cycle of gun violence

John Solomon was sitting at home when he received the call. The person on the other line spoke only a few words before Solomon hung up, rushed into his car and began driving through his North Philadelphia neighborhood. He knew that if he wasn’t fast enough, shots were going to be fired.

Earlier that week, a kid had begun trash-talking another in the comments on an Instagram Live. The words seemed a surefire catalyst for provocation amid beefing groups of young people. But moments before the confrontation, another kid involved in the feud stepped aside to call Solomon. He met the two groups at a warehouse, de-escalated the crisis, and mediated the dispute. No one was injured that night.

This is all in a day’s work for the founder of eight-year-old North Philly-based non-profit Endangered Kind, which specializes in gaining youths’ trust in order to prevent violence. So far, Solomon estimates Endangered Kind has prevented three to eight conflicts per month and has worked with hundreds of youth. The work is painstaking. It’s also entirely worth it.

“We were able to save a life,” Solomon says, sitting in a second-floor Allegheny office space that he shares with Culture Changing Christians, an urban youth ministry, camp and empowerment organization. Classical music emanates from a YouTube naturescape on the TV, and plastic ivy — which he and his pastor hung — covers walls and ceiling vents to make the room feel peaceful, a carefully curated escape from an infrequently peaceful outside. Endangered Kind uses the space for in-person mediation and gun violence intervention “designed to rebuild those that have been abandoned in the streets,” he says.

Finding a different path

Solomon grew up in Allegheny at 24th and Somerset streets. His mother, grandmother and aunt gave him a loving childhood, but despite their care, he grew up in what he characterizes as an aggressive environment where gun violence was a norm.

At age 10, he began to follow older neighborhood residents who were carrying guns, coming into close proximity to street crime. By his teenage years, he was already intimately involved in gun violence — and a war with kids nearby.

At 15, he was shot from retaliatory gun violence. That same year, he witnessed a friend murdered right in front of him. Instead of turning him away from the lifestyle, these incidents further entrenched him.

“That only amplified me being aggressive, me feeling like I had to defend my life at the time, me not being mature enough to understand the thing that I was doing,” Solomon says. “Although I did it out of survival, I never really considered other alternatives to find a peaceful resolution to the war and conflict that we were in at that time.”

“Our ultimate goal is to normalize peace, eradicate retaliatory gun violence, and create equitable opportunities for underserved black and brown communities in Philadelphia.” — John Solomon

At 17, Solomon was arrested for gun possession. He had his high school graduation while in juvenile detention. Not long after his release in 2011, he was arrested again on the cusp of his 19th birthday for attempted murder and sentenced to four-and-a-half years.

Solomon served his first year-and-a-half in county prison, where he continued his pattern of aggression and violence. It wasn’t until he was transferred upstate to SCI Dallas that things started to change. Farther away from his supportive family, he developed a deeper sense of duty to them.

“That was the turning point in my life, where I’m like, I need to do something else outside of the path that I’m on, because the path that I’m on is only going to lead to me being rearrested for another crime that might land me in jail for the rest of my life,” he says.

He began his spiritual journey as a Christian; his faith led him to believe that he and his family could get out of this, that they deserved better. Solomon’s newfound perspective caught the interest of a group of inmates who had served 30 to 40 years, many with life sentences. These men had transformed their lives in prison — but didn’t have the chance to go home. They took Solomon under their wing, educating him on politics, leadership and self-growth. They would quiz him on scenarios he might face upon his release that could send him back to prison, preparing him in every way they could imagine.

“They felt like I had the potential of being able to go home to do some amazing things, and they also were passionate because they felt like they could vicariously live through me while I was out there doing the work that they dreamed of being able to do,” Solomon says.

Solomon was released from prison on July 5, 2015. He was 23. “I was a child-child when I got locked up, even though I was legally an adult,” he says. “But when I came home at 23, my goal was to really get my life together.”

Upon arriving back in his neighborhood, he saw the younger guys he had grown up with transformed into teenagers involved in the same cycle of gun violence and conflict he had experienced. Despite his financial precarity, he committed himself to the community work that eventually became Endangered Kind.

Intervening in times of crisis

“Typically when you hear ‘endangered species,’ people tend to think about animals and how they are at risk of being extinct,” says Solomon. “And I just thought about my own journey in life and how the majority of people that I witnessed being killed or being in prison were people that were Black and Brown. So, I came up with the idea of Endangered Kind, like humankind.”

In 2016, he founded Endangered Kind as a violence interruption program focused on kids entangled in the cycle of gun violence and conflict. Through a deeply intimate network of trust and personal relations within the community, the organization — now comprised of eight credible messengers — forms deep connections with at-risk and risk-taking young people in order to understand their perspectives and struggles so they can individually support them.

The foundation of their work is organic — and physical. They walk up and down neighborhood blocks engaging with kids. They talk to neighbors at block parties and network with friends of friends to figure out whom to reach out to and what are the current ongoing conflicts. Solomon emphasizes that the people working for Endangered Kind are from the same background and community as the kids they’re working with, creating a unique sense of understanding and trust.

“If I had someone to look up to like John Solomon when I was a kid, I don’t know where I would have been right now. I know I would have been further than where I’m at right now though.” —  Nickeem Higgis

Their work is a matter of showing love and being a consistent presence in young people’s lives, even if they aren’t initially receptive.

“I understand the importance of building relationships with people that are involved in gun violence and knowing that if you don’t have trust amongst the individuals that are engaging in gun violence, then you stand no chance at being in a position where you can get a phone call and respond to resolve or mediate a conflict in real-time,” he says.

While Endangered Kind mediates conflicts, their goal is to prevent face-to-face standoffs before they begin by providing kids the resources and support to help transition away from violence. If someone is late on a phone bill, they’ll give them money so that they don’t feel pressure to resort to illegal means to pay it. They put kids in basketball programs to keep them busy and connect them to like-minded friends. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of sitting down to ask kids about their day and making sure that they have a meal in front of them.

These acts may seem simple on the surface, but Solomon points out that transitioning away from gun violence is a difficult journey, especially when it’s so deeply ingrained. He compares his work to dealing with someone who has a drug addiction.

“We typically think that somebody can just stop, when in most cases, it is much more complex than trying to get one person or group to stop when there are so many moving parts,” he says. Well meaning friends might present illegal opportunities as a way to offer genuine support. Some kids might hope to leave behind a history of violence but are well aware that they are still in an environment where they could be targeted regardless of their future actions. Plenty of the youths Endangered Kind works with grew up carrying a firearm for protection.

“It’s hard to value your life when you grow up in [poverty-stricken] communities. It’s hard to value your life when society perpetuates the image that you’re worthless, that you mean nothing to the bigger world. And you kind of subconsciously walk around with that,” says Solomon. “And I think that’s why it’s so easy for people to get caught up in this lifestyle where they don’t feel like their life’s valuable.” He points out that oftentimes, within his community, it’s much easier to go down the wrong path, especially when young kids don’t see any alternative.

Solomon remembers being in these kids’ shoes. He knows transitioning away from the norm of gun violence is lonely, but, he tells them, to stick with their ideals, and they’ll be able to build a new community. He’s a tangible image of a better future.

“So oftentimes these success stories are not as real to younger people,” Solomon says, pointing out that those that do succeed tend to move out of the community, depriving kids of exposure to positive role models that represent an alternative to the status quo. “I remember at one point in time I didn’t really see beyond life and success out of being involved in a criminal lifestyle. I really didn’t understand how much bigger the world was.”

Through Endangered Kind, Solomon is able to give kids in his community the hope that he once needed, reminding them of their value and potential.

Recent youth gun violence in Philadelphia

As of May 6, 2024, there have been 345 shootings this year in Philadelphia. Although homicides are down 35 percent over last year, the rate of victims under age 18 in Philadelphia has increased. Last year, 10 percent of all gun violence victims were children; so far this year, it’s 13 percent — part of a larger national trend.

On March 16, eight teenagers were shot at a SEPTA bus stop in the Burholme section of Northeast Philadelphia on their way home from school. Five boys, ranging ages 15 to 17, have been arrested as suspects.

“It’s one thing to criticize or complain about the gun violence that is happening,” Solomon says, taking a deep breath before discussing the SEPTA shooting. “But we need to do more as a city to address these issues, and not just put it on parents and the government and law enforcement. We all need to collectively get to a place where we’re all willing to find ways to allow each other and hold each other accountable to doing a better job at shaping the environment within our communities.”

Last year, Governor Shapiro picked Solomon to be part of his Community Safety Transition Advisory Committee. Shapiro’s team recognized that the methods Solomon used quite naturally are also research-based solutions.

“Peer support and violence intervention programs are important tools to reducing gun violence and making our communities safer,” says Akbar Hossain, secretary of Policy and Planning and the former executive director of the Shapiro-Davis Transition. “John’s perspective helped the Shapiro-Davis transition craft plans to build on the kind of work he does … proven violence prevention and intervention programs to address gun violence.”

John Solomon, founder of Endangered Kind at N. 24th Street and W. Somerset Street, where he grew up, stands on a street corner speaking with North Philly resident Aisha Best, a Black woman with a red vest, white and black striped sweater, and black and white striped pants and jewelry. Solomon is a Black man with a mustache. He is wearing a black beanie hat, black hoodie.
(Right) Aisha Best, a resident of North Philadelphia and John Solomon share their stories. Photo by Solmaira Valerio.

A full circle moment

While Solomon is intimately familiar with the experiences of the people he works with, the logistics of running a non-profit were initially foreign to him. For years, he worked various odd jobs at moving companies and restaurants to fund his work out of pocket. It wasn’t until around year five that he learned he could apply for grants to pay for Endangered Kind’s work. Their main source of funding is from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. His first grant, in 2020, allowed him to recruit a team with close connections to the culture of gun violence. In 2022, he could commit himself full-time to his work, both expanding his programming and being available at a moment’s notice.

“Our ultimate goal is to normalize peace, eradicate retaliatory gun violence, and create equitable opportunities for underserved black and brown communities in Philadelphia,” says Solomon.

Nickeem Higgis, is an employee at Endangered Kind and a childhood friend of Solomon’s. Higgis echoes Solomon’s belief that the group’s work is effective because its leaders have been the kids they work with.

“If I had someone to look up to like John Solomon when I was a kid, I don’t know where I would have been right now. I know I would have been further than where I’m at right now though,” says Higgis. “We didn’t have any John Solomons when I was growing up.”

Despite being released from prison in 2015, Solomon only recently got off of parole, and is now able to travel freely outside of Philadelphia. A few months ago, Solomon traveled to SCI Dallas, where what he calls his “second life” began.

“It was just surreal. The last time I was there, I had on the same clothes as the inmates had on currently, brown bottoms, brown shirt, and I was viewed as an inmate by the guards in there,” he says. “Just to see my mentors in there was like, the investment y’all made in me paid off. I really was one of the individuals that went home and did exactly what y’all envisioned.

One of these mentors reached out to Solomon for help building a pilot program to mentor men under 30 incarcerated for violent crimes. They asked Solomon to share his experiences and everything he had accomplished since his release.

“It was a full circle moment where I was able to come back and let them know I did it.”


John Solomon, founder of Endangered Kind at N. 24th Street and W. Somerset Street, where he grew up. Photo by Solmaira Valerio.

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