A portion of the 331 T-shirts displayed on the lawn of the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill marking the number of Philadelphians who were killed by firearms in 2012. Each T-shirt bears the name of a homicide victim. The display was prepared by Heeding God’s Call, a Northwest Philadelphia faith-based movement against gun violence. (Photo by Walter Fox)

by Pete Mazzaccaro

Dozens of volunteers gathered at Chestnut Hill Presbyterian Church, 8855 Germantown Ave., to create a memorial for 331 people killed by guns in Philadelphia in 2012.

The memorial was the work of Heeding God’s Call, a Northwest Philadelphia faith-based organization dedicated to reducing gun violence through a number of actions, including regular protests at area gun shops.

The Rev. W. Jarrett Kerbel of St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church, who organized the work, said the project was the idea of church youth groups – many of the youth group members from both churches were working to build the memorial. Heeding God’s Call sponsored the work.

“People are already stopping and asking, ‘What is this?’” Kerbel said in remarks to the volunteers. “It’s already having the effect we envisioned.”

Bryan Miller, executive director of Heeding God’s Call, said that the faith community would have to act and get even more involved to curb rampant gun violence in the United States.

“One of the points that [President Barack Obama] made very forcefully is the only way we’re going to change things about guns in this country is if people who aren’t the usual suspects get involved and make things happen,” Miller said. “And the faith community has not unfortunately been a usual suspect. It’s my view that the faith community absolutely has to lead for anything to change in this country about guns.

“Whatever happens in the next three months … I think we are going to achieve some good stuff. No matter how much we achieve it’s not enough. We will save many people, but we’ll still lose thousands of people and that’s insane.”

In addition to the work by local church youth groups, several people whose children had been killeed by gun violence helped write names on the shirts and erect the small crosses on which the shirts were propped.

Movita Johnson-Harrell’s son Charles Johnson was killed by two men in early 2011. Johnson was waiting in his car for his sister, and the two rushed up and shot him. Johnson said her son was a victim of mistaken identity and was not the intended target of his killers.

“We need to do something about gun control,” Johnson-Harrell said. “But what we really need is to get illegal guns off the streets. We need to pressure gun dealers.”

Johnson-Harrell started a foundation called the Charles Foundation that works to find good jobs for young people in Philadelphia.

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