by SOJC students Lena Felt and Christelle Auzas
Up the Block aims to gather as much information and resources on gun violence onto one user-friendly website for Philadelphians to use. The website will connect people with information on recovering from shootings, keeping young people safe, and holding local leaders accountable. The hub splits up the types of resources into three pillars or categories. These pillars are based on similarities among different organizations – civil interest, youth and young adults, general, etc.
Organization Background: The Trace is a non-profit organization that is focused on covering news about gun violence. The organization is based in New York City but has reporters working remotely across the US. The organization aims to increase the knowledge and understanding about gun violence, get involved with communities, increase accountability, and identify solutions. The Trace hopes to reach communities who are in need of news about gun violence.
Project Goals: The main goal of the project is to make resources around gun violence radically available. This includes things such as information about safe-havens, where to find financial help for the funeral of a gun violence victim, bilingual services for shooting survivors, for young people threatened by gun violence, and more. Another goal of Up the Block is to make sure Philadelphians’ voices, especially Black and Latinx, are heard by leaders of the city as they make decisions about approaches to violence prevention. Iglesias plans to partner with places such as churches, schools, and food hubs, and provide a direct service on a neighborhood level in order to become more intertwined with communities.
Project Resources: The project consists of one full-time staff member, Sabrina Iglesias, with some support from her manager at The Trace. There are two freelance reporters working on the project – Emily Neil, a reporter found through Billy Penn, and Afea Tucker, a reporter found through the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists. There is also a spanish translator named Gabriela Rivera who works with Resolve Philly and is working with them for this project. Iglesias hopes to hire more freelancers in illustration and photography in the future. There is a budget that is not public information from the Last Mile Grant provided by the Emerson Collective. The grant helped them through “the last mile,” reaching the community.
Tools & Technology: The main technology used in this project is a custom website where all of the resources can be found. Iglesias also uses Canva to create Instagram posts and Airtable to help organize the data they have collected on the Up the Block website. Beside that, the project relies heavily on word-of-mouth in order to distribute the online resource guides. Iglesias plans on using mailings, flyers, community bulletin boards, and local organizations who might be willing to hand out the flyers to spread the word. She hopes that people in the city will also post/repost about it on Instagram or other social media.
Impact: So far, the Up the Block Instagram page has 116 followers about two weeks into the account’s creation and the mailing list has 36 subscribers. Iglesias is excited for these to grow more once the website is completed and ready for people to actually utilize. In terms of future impacts, Iglesias hopes to have continuous conversations that allow the resource guide to expand with the community’s needs. Once the pandemic is less of a concern. She wants to physically get into the community and have more conversations face-to-face and build more meaningful connections.
Here’s How it Happened
Sabrina Iglesias, the community outreach editor for The Trace, has lived in Philadelphia most of her life and has witnessed the effects of gun violence on her community. In 2021, Iglesias decided to do something about this issue by addressing two main things: the removed and often one-dimensional way that the news media tends to report on gun violence in her community, and the lack of readily available resources for those affected by gun violence. From there, she launched Up the Block.
- Listening and reading tour: Iglesias started the project off by doing a listening and reading tour in places like virtual town hall meetings, local radio shows about gun violence, and neighborhood specific Facebook groups.
- Compiling resource guide: After listening to the needs and views of the community, Iglesias began compiling resources on a google doc that she found through her tours and via extensive reporting on gun violence.
- Building a website: The Trace hired a design firm called Upstatement to help create their website for Up the Block. They started it in early April of 2021 and are using Airtable, a spreadsheet-database hybrid digital platform, to help build the website.
- Updating resources: Iglesias will continue to update the resource guide as the project growths. There will also be a feedback section of the website where people can go to say whether the resource guide is helpful or not. Iglesias hopes for this to be a space for input and conversation about the community, and that this can spark conversations in-person with friends and neighbors.
Here’s What Worked
Iglesias is putting listening at the forefront of this project. This is a community-led project so Iglesias listens more than asking to help take herself out of the conversation. This makes it so that it is collaborative and she is not shaping the conversation through her experience with gun violence. She does not have any specific questions to ask nor does she look for specific answers. Iglesias gives people space to talk about their feelings and concerns with gun violence and their families. Iglesias has also listened to town hall meetings, local radio shows about gun violence, and read neighborhood-specific Facebook groups. This helped create a foundation for this project.
2. Planning the first three pillars of the project
By organizing the resources guide and website around three pillars or categories helped Iglesias know where to start and what to work on next. The pillar system helped her see a clear goal for the website and provided her with a road map of sorts to navigate each step of the process. The pillars were created by looking at the types of organizations and how they fit into specific categories. The first pillar is a resource guide based off of Billy Penn’s similar gun violence resource guide. Pillar two is a second resource guide specifically geared towards organizations for kids, teens and young adults. The third pillar will be resources for getting involved in anti gun violence legislation. It will cover things like how to hold your local government accountable, how to act on your civic interest, and how you can talk to your council member.
3. Having the project lead by a Philadelphian
Having someone that understands the city and who is involved with it allows for a more trustworthy source and the advancement of Philadelphia. The freelance hires are also Philidelphian as well as the news organizations that she collaborates with. Iglesias makes sure to listen to the Philadelphians themselves rather than her own perspective.
Here’s What Could Have Worked Better
1. Starting on the website and social media presence sooner
Having these platforms would have allowed the work that is already completed to be showcased. The website is still in progress although the first resource guide is fully reported.
2. Building a larger team
Iglesias is the only person who is fully dedicated to Up the Block. She does have a manager who helps out whenever possible, however, having at least one other dedicated person would be helpful.
3. Spending more time cultivating important relationships
Since Iglesias is the only person on staff fully dedicated to this project, it makes it difficult to stay in touch with other important people that she has spoken to and cultivated valuable relationships with during the course of this project. The pandemic has also been a huge obstacle in cultivating close relationships with the community because she has not been able to physically go out into the community and talk with people face-to-face.
Here’s What Else You Should Know
There are plans in the works to create a texting service in collaboration with another local publication for the community to text their thoughts and concerns to Up the Block.
Billy Penn at WHYY was a major contributor at the beginning of this project. Danya, from Billy Penn provided a list of possible freelancers who could help out with the project. Billy Penn also published the intropost announcing the project which was huge for getting the word out as they have a large local audience.
To learn more or get involved, feel free to reach out to Sabrina Iglesias, follow the project on Instagram at @uptheblockphl, or sign up for email updates using this form. You can also check out the following links to learn about the project and resources: