Since 2015, The Trace has reported on the gun violence epidemic, the uniquely American factors that have allowed it to run rampant, and the people working to address it. Typically, that reporting has taken traditional forms: investigations, profiles, policy stories. With Up the Block, our Philadelphia-focused community engagement project, we’re now using journalism to provide a more direct service, creating a hub of information for folks struggling through issues relating to gun violence on a neighborhood level.
In 2019, the Trace applied for a grant to do this work. We hired Sabrina Iglesias to run the project in the summer of 2020. She spent her first few months listening to Philadelphians’ urgent concerns regarding gun violence, safety, policing, and justice. In this stage, she learned a few things. “Many media outlets are quick to report that there was another shooting on your street, but have little to offer those of us confronting the violence up close,” Iglesias wrote in the introduction to Up the Block. “Your neighbors have lots of ideas and questions about keeping their families safe and recovering from traumas, but information that directly meets their needs can be hard to find.”
Working with local media partners, community members, and journalists, she gathered essential information on organizations that address public safety. One common concern: There were many resources available for survivors of gun violence, but no central place to find them. As Iglesias wrote, “if such a resource existed, there’s a chance it could help change the path your community is on.”
So she worked to develop Up the Block, our effort to do just that. Our custom-built website presented resources in three phases: The first built on Billy Penn at WHYY’s indispensable list of resources for healing and rebuilding after shootings, accessing financial help for the funeral of a gun violence victim, bilingual services for survivors, and much more. The second phase added information on safe havens and opportunities for young people threatened by gun violence. And we are soon launching phase three, which adds ways that Philadelphians can make sure leaders hear their voices and consider their experiences as the city creates new approaches to preventing violence.
To spread the word, we’ve partnered with local newsrooms, community organizations, and city councilmember offices. Up the Block also distributes knowledge offline, through tools like text lines, flyers, and in newsboxes. And throughout the process, Sabrina Iglesias stays connected with her neighbors by tabling at events around the city to understand how their perspectives and questions are evolving, and using that input to improve the project. Up the Block’s Instagram has functioned as a vehicle for giving community members hope — every day, and in the wake of several shootings.
‘Up The Block’ took service journalism to the next level. This is a terrific project that addresses an urgent community need with resources for the public across the spectrum.