Grassroots effort pushing free mental health care for Philadelphia kids touched by gun violence

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) — Philadelphia remains on track with the number of homicides reported this time last year.

That’s why a grassroots organization is mobilizing to ensure the city’s youngest residents not only have an outlet for the trauma, but also a place to come to terms with what’s unfolding in their homes.

For Reginald Howard, this fight is personal.

“I was involved in gun violence. Not in my way – I was involved in an attempted robbery,” he said. “All I know is that the partner I was rocking with came back and said, ‘This old lady wouldn’t give up her bag, so I shot it,’ and I said, ‘Man!'”

Howard knew then that he had to make other decisions.

“I don’t even know why I was in that car with him, I don’t know why I was doing the things I was doing,” he said.

He was 18 then. Today, 31, he has turned his life around.

Once a youth member of the nonprofit organization Black Men Heal, he is now a senior program coordinator, helping to bring a new program to city kids called Gun Violence Group Therapy.

“And this is GVGT. It’s like, let me understand why I do the things I do and how I can find alternative ways to deal with trauma,” Howard said.

“We want to give them a space for how their mental health is being impacted,” said Edie King, a licensed professional counselor in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The program, due to start this fall, will include licensed counselors and men who have either been victims of violence or have lived a life of violence.

All services would be free, with an immediate focus on boys between the ages of 12 and 17.

There’s a reason they’re focused on this age group.

“What the research shows is when it comes to gun violence, that’s where these groups are formed, these decisions are made,” King said. “The independent autonomy happens and can also open the door for some bad decisions or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

For Howard, he hopes to use his lived experience to help children avoid a path he once walked.

“Share your story, share your journey, your trials and tribulations — it helps you as an individual,” he said.

The program says it will eventually open to other age groups such as mixed young adults and families.

For more information or to enroll in this new program, visit

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