Editor’s Note: This piece comes from a new CNN special “Stories: Reporter,” which aired onSaturday, May 28at 7:30PM EDT.
Watch the video here.
Philadelphia (CNN) — Listen to the FBI and you will know that violent crime dropped over almost the whole country last year; murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape. Listen to people in some parts of Philadelphia and you will know that the Northeast is not part of that trend. Here the numbers keep climbing.
Violence comes to their streets as surely as sunset. Abandoned houses share corners with makeshift memorials to victims; often young men who get caught up in events they don’t anticipate and can’t escape.
“Around here it’s not every safe to walk up the streets,” one kid said. “Someone could come up to you and start shooting at you for no reason; just ’cause you’re from that ‘hood.”
That is why Imam Suetwidien Muhammad chose this place to start hitting back.
“I came up in this neighborhood,” he said sitting in the morning sun on the steps of a former plumbing supply warehouse. “This neighborhood was averaging six murders a month. There was a lot of violence, a lot of trash. We needed to bring about change.”
So 10 years ago he started Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia, a mosque in the old rundown warehouse. As he sat and explained how the mosque had grown to 500 members, workers above him pushed and slapped stucco into the three story stone facade above him. They started by fixing up the inside so people could have a safe place to come and pray.
Congregants said the place perennially smells like fresh paint because the imam is always busy fixing or improving something.
Inside the doors from what was once the plumbing supply loading dock are a small deli, a barber shop, a hair salon, a restaurant and a sprawling prayer space. But Imam Muhammad’s pride and joy is upstairs, above the worship space; a boxing gym where the children of the neighborhood come every day … .
The young boxers are a range of ages. Some were raised Muslim, some Christian, some follow no faith, but all are welcome. The lessons are free and not just about boxing. Imam Muhammad talks endlessly about discipline, respect, education and commitment; about young people turning into responsible adults. (More)