Last year, local talk show host Zarinah Lomax, a Pennsport resident, faced an unforeseen tragedy when a friend’s daughter lost her life to gun violence on the streets of Philadelphia.
Seeking an organization to help manage her grief, Lomax was perplexed by what she perceived as scattered approaches toward peace across the city.
“I saw a lot of separate efforts, so I didn’t understand why everyone was having 50 different events in one day when you could have just come together,” she said. “So, ‘Better Together’ was birthed to do that…Instead of me starting another gun violence nonprofit, it’s to basically bring awareness to ones that are already doing great things.”
Marking its inaugural event, “Better Together,” a community event comprised of resources, recreation, entertainment and refreshments, was hosted for the first time on Saturday afternoon at Wharton Square Playground, 2300 Wharton St.
Starting with a rally and march around South Philadelphia, the all-day event, which featured various resources, performances by local artists, workshops and panels, was intended to shed light on various calamities currently plaguing the city, including gun violence, domestic abuse, human trafficking, missing children and the opioid crisis.
While innumerable advocacy organizations and nonprofits continue to surface throughout the area, Lomax, who is the host of an award-winning program, “Talking the Walk,” broadcast through PhillyCAM, is striving to bridge any gaps between such support groups through her recently established nonprofit “Strength in Numbers” – the organizer of Saturday’s event.
“There’s a lot of division, which is causing the gun violence,” Lomax said. “Nobody is friends anymore. Neighbors don’t talk. Nobody wants to do anything. Back in the day, community was everything. So, this is really about bringing community again and that you can do something strong together instead of all the individual efforts.”
This weekend’s unified community outreach intended to not only raise awareness of various forms of devastation in Philadelphia but serve as a safe space for healing and growth from tragedy.
For those grieving, the event centered heavily upon physical and mental wellness, including offering several health and employment resources for individuals of all ages.
The Point Breeze event drew crowds from across the region.
“We’re here today to bring resources to the community for family members, individuals who suffer from some type of violent act – whether it’d be gun violence, domestic violence, opioid addiction,” said event planner and West Philly resident Monique O’Neal. “…So, we’re here bringing resources and just letting people know that you can come together and have a very generous and fun time while healing.”
In an effort to incarnate the cornerstone of Strength in Numbers, the event was attended by various local support groups, including Building Unity Through Tragedy and Moms Bonded by Grief, a South Philadelphia-based nonprofit founded in 2017 that seeks to connect parents who lost children to inner-city gun violence.
For the founders of these organizations, attending Saturday’s event was not only an opportunity to memorialize the lives of their own deceased loved ones but to concurrently lift the spirits of those also suffering.
“I went through a terrible, terrible time in my life with grief. It consumed me whereas I didn’t want to continue to live,” said Moms Bonded by Grief founder Terrez McCleary, whose daughter passed away from gunshot wounds in April 2009 in South Philadelphia. “I joined an organization to help me with my grief and I was filled with so much love and support from older members that I just wanted to share the love and spread the love down here in South Philadelphia, because so many people that I know are now losing their children to violence.”
Like Lomax, McCleary notices an escalating need to unify the community in light of sorrow. She says the mission of her support group aligns with Lomax’s efforts.
McCleary especially wanted to be involved with Saturday’s event, because she says it not only offered resources to the community but was an opportunity to introduce children to the arts and culture, as the afternoon showcased performances ranging from poetry to violins.
Ideally, such exposure will resonate with them well beyond Saturday’s festivities and, in due course, prevent violent tendencies.
“I’m out here today in collaboration with (Lomax) to just give the children something to do today on a positive note, because there’s so much violence going on in this city,” McCleary said. “We just wanted to bring a fun-filled day with a message out to the children that everything does not have to be about violence.”
Looking ahead, Lomax says she plans to host a “Better Together” community event every summer in South Philadelphia, striving to increase resources and attendees each year.
Even aside from the annual event, she intends for Strength in Numbers to continue fostering a collective network among support groups around the city – and even one day beyond Philadelphia.
“I pray that everyone is healed,” Lomax said. “And if it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re healed from gun violence – you’re healed in the mindset to think that you can’t build relationships with other people…This is not a competition. It should be unified. We’re supposed to be combating the exact same things.”