Tyrique Glasgow’s life has always revolved around her South Philadelphia neighborhood, and gun violence has always been a part of it.
When he was just 8 years old, he heard his grandmother’s screams after being told that his uncle had been murdered. He lost several cousins and friends in gunfights. At 15, he was sucked into street life – selling drugs and eventually controlling a specific block in his neighborhood.
“When you run a block, like, you’re the face. You are the one that this community of people knows. You set rules and limits,” said Glasgow, now 39. “It’s a dangerous life, but it’s a normal life.”
Over the next few years, he was shot 11 times in the head, back, legs and arms, he said. In 2006, he was sent to prison for drug trafficking where, in the end, he changed his mind.
“I started to see what I was doing wrong,” he said. “The time out was definitely necessary.”
When Glasgow returned home in 2011, he was trying to find a new path when a local boy asked him for help with a flag football team. Glasgow eventually agreed to coach.
“I was tired of my community following me in a negative direction and I wanted them to follow me in a positive direction,” he said. “The kids really gave me purpose.”
Soon he found himself organizing a dance team for girls, and in 2012 he had started the Young Chances Foundation to help give young people a chance at a better life. Over the next decade, her work grew to include summer camps, holiday events, and extracurricular activities.
Three years ago Glasgow opened a community center which has become a source of support for the whole neighbourhood. Now, on the block where he once sold drugs, he provides food, necessities and resources to hundreds of local residents every week.
“The same people we used to give negative things to, now we can give positive resources,” he said.
Open six days a week, the center is now a community hub. Hot meals are handed out twice a week and a host of essentials – groceries, diapers, clothing, school supplies and PPE – are always freely available to everyone.
Additionally, Glasgow helps connect people with resources for GED courses, rental assistance, addiction treatment, or mental health counselling. He believes that everything he offers makes life better and the neighborhood safer.
“It helps reduce poverty, stress, trauma,” he said. “And when your quality of life is up, crime goes down.”
Glasgow continues to offer free programs for young people, such as tutoring, sports and after-school care, and it reaches out to young adults in the area by offering non-judgmental support.
“I try to bring people to the table to take them off the menu,” he said. “They accept me because I don’t point fingers at them. I look at them and see myself. I am one of them.”
He has also established a strong partnership with the police, who have long supported his work, and he encourages community dialogue by hosting roundtables with residents and officers on local issues.
“Seeing the officers in a different light builds confidence, and it builds confidence. (The police) built that same trust with me,” Glasgow said. “They need to see that not all cops are bad.”
His approach seems to be working. Last year, Philadelphia recorded a record number of homicides, nearly 90% of which were caused by firearms. But in the Glasgow neighborhood, shootings have dropped significantly, according to the Philadelphia Police Department’s 17th District. Police officers say the Young Chances Foundation is part of the reason.
Ultimately, Glasgow wants its neighbors to not just live, but thrive.
“We’re trying to create a safe haven and environment for the whole neighborhood,” he said.
“We want them to see a better day.”
CNN’s Kathleen Toner spoke with Glasgow about her work. Below is an edited version of their conversation.
NC: You do so much work through your center, but you also started a community garden last spring. Why was this important to you?
Typical Glasgow: The community garden is an essential part of our community. It was a wasteland – an eyesore, a place where they hid weapons and drugs. But studies have shown that if we could clean it up, it would reduce violence in our community. Now we are turning it into a vegetable, fruit and produce garden. It’s a safe place for our children and it becomes a positive outlet for energy in our neighborhood. Everyone in the community played a part in getting it started – whether it was planting seeds or pulling weeds.
It’s dedicated to Tynirah Borum, a 3-year-old girl who was killed while having her hair braided in 2014. It’s not a sanctuary from violence, but Tynirah won’t be able to graduate, go to her prom, having a kid and we want to make sure all the other kids can have those things. This will not happen overnight. That will take time. And that’s what the garden shows us. It symbolizes everything we want in our community. It’s reinventing our quality of life.
NC: You are also part of an effort to rename a local street. What are they talking about?
Glasgow: Taney Street is basically where I started selling drugs, and it happens to be named after Roger Taney, the Supreme Court Justice (who wrote) the Dred Scott decision, which basically said that blacks were not equal to whites. It’s so offensive. It does not represent what we represent today. But there is a coalition trying to change the name. We’ve taken surveys, held community meetings, and are now trying to rename it after Caroline LeCount, a teacher from Philadelphia who got on the streetcar system. She was basically our Rosa Parks. She is a positive symbol who provided education and championed social justice. Now we’re just waiting for the city council to make the official change.
It’s about taking ownership of the community, but also doing homework on its history. It also shows our young people so that they can be the next face that will appear up there on the next street sign. We are really trying to change the images that our children and our families see.
NC: You have made a lot of progress, but you have also suffered losses. Who is Nasir Livingston and what role has he played in your work?
Glasgow: When I came back from prison, I had a ‘little me’ in the neighborhood – Nasir. And what he did was really promote what the kids wanted, which was to play flag football. So he pushed me to start the programs and really got me into the organization. But he was killed at 17. It was a major, major loss. He was someone I thought no matter what, “I got it.” And hearing that gunshot hurt me. So he’s really a symbol of who we’re trying to save. And he still influences the way I move forward. What conversation can we have to make sure that doesn’t happen? What resources are lagging behind that we can build? That’s why I’m going as hard as I can. This is how you protect your village. I want to make sure we don’t lose anything anymore.
Want to get involved? Check the website of the Fondation Jeunes Chances and see how to help you.
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