Friday, November 17, 2006

Allen Iverson wants to help put an end to Murderdelphia

Earlier this week, the heartbreaking yet inspirational story of Kevin Johnson put another face to the sometimes all-too faceless epidemic of Philadelphia gun violence.

Kevin, shot three years ago over an Allen Iverson jersey and a quadriplegic ever since, fell into a vegetative state last week after his ventilator malfunctioned, leaving him brain dead and on life support.

In the three years since the shooting, Kevin had become a fixture in the city’s anti-violence efforts, telling his story at schools whenever he had the chance.

Early Tuesday morning, Kevin’s family took him off life-support, donating Kevin’s organs as he would have wished.
Although Johnson and his family have forgiven the shooters, the decision to take Johnson off life support once again crystallized the gun epidemic gripping this city.

"I'm hoping that everyone got the chance to see Kevin riding down the block in his wheelchair and sucking on that [ventilator] tube and know that's the after-effects of picking up a gun," Jackson-Burke said.

"It's not a joke. I would think that if we were able to put [the procedure of withdrawing the life-support system] on television, I would do it if that would help one more child."

The irony is that Kevin, even in his paralyzed state, would often speak at various schools and panels, discussing the violence that so deeply touched his life while urging the assembled youth to not resort to guns.

"Every time Kevin was invited to talk at a school, he jumped at it," Jackson-Burke said.
More, from the Daily News:
To many, Johnson, 22, became the silver lining in the black cloud of violence that haunts this city when he forgave a group of teens who had shot and paralyzed him over a basketball jersey.

He never gave into the despair of his confinement to a wheelchair or his dependence on a ventilator and his mother to keep him alive. Johnson opted instead to become a fixture at area schools, lecturing kids and adults on the perils of violence.
Though his health forced him to make frequent trips to the doctor's office, his mother said Johnson never gave up on his dreams. He continued to lecture at schools and churches - he was slated to speak at a peace summit in North Philadelphia later this week - and took online college courses that he hoped would one day allow him to work with at-risk kids.

"I was so proud to be his aunt," said Jeanne Jackson-Parks. "He was an inspiration."
And the Inquirer:
For Johnson, the shooting - which many people may have viewed as an ending - became a new beginning. Strapped into his wheelchair, he and his mother spoke at schools and rallies, advising their audience to stay away from guns: One bullet - fired without a thought - could change or destroy a life.

Johnson's family says the injury changed, not ruined, his life. True, his mother had to bathe and dress him. He could no longer lace up his sneakers to play basketball or grab a video game controller. His plans to go to college were put on hold.

But Johnson was the same positive thinker he'd always been, they say. He forgave his assailants, even befriending one of them and giving advice as the man played video games at his bedside. He cherished and teased his sisters while lying prone on his bed. His mother's spaghetti was still his favorite food, although she now had to feed it to him.
Allen Iverson, the man whose jersey Kevin Johnson was wearing when he was shot, quietly contacted the family this week, asking to help and will pay for the funeral.
Iverson said once he saw Johnson's story in the newspaper, he felt he needed to do something. Aided by his wife, Tawanna, who found the hospital where Johnson lay critically ill, he got in contact with Jackson-Burke and spoke to her and Kevin's aunt.

"They didn't have the financial support to be able to have the funeral like they wanted," he said. "So I spoke to her and asked them: Could I do anything to help?

"I didn't want them to think I was trying to disrespect them by doing it for any publicity or anything like that. It was just something that touched me, and I felt I could do something to help. She appreciated it. I was just happy that she let me help."
And now Iverson wants to do more.
"Seventy-seven people a day all across the U.S. Almost 400 people in Philadelphia [this year]. It's just terrible, what's going on in Philadelphia. I just feel like I've got to do something more than I have been doing to try to help this situation as much as I can. If I can reach one person and take one death away, I think I'd be doing something. It's not right in Philadelphia right now."
"There's a lot of good people trying to help the situation in Philadelphia," he said. "Obviously, you need a lot more help and a lot more different ideas to try to make this thing better.
An Inquirer editorial today urges Mayor Street to find a way to try to use Iverson to help.
The Answer just might be one of the answers to this critical question: How can Philadelphia begin to holster gun violence? Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson has said he wants to help. City leaders should jump at his offer.
That background and his sports skills give Iverson credibility with the very young people who need to be reached and steered away from violence. Mayor Street, take Iverson up on his offer.

Let one of Philadelphia's creative minds design a TV/radio campaign so Iverson can address young men. Recruit him to help lead a peace summit for gang leaders.

Iverson may be one of the few who can get street thugs to listen and lay down their weapons. As gun violence continues to rise, seeing what he can do is worth a try.
It is, indeed, worth a try. Please. Try something.

Meanwhile, Kevin Johnson, shot three years ago over an Allen Iverson jersey, will be buried next Wednesday, November 22, wearing an Allen Iverson jersey once again.

Offering help to stop a plague [Inquirer]
An Inspiration to the end [Daily News]
Family to end life support for gunshot victim [Daily News]
Cut down over an Iverson jersey, he'll be laid to rest in one [Inquirer]
Iverson felt need to aid gun victim [Inquirer]

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