SJU Center Goes Viral to Fight Violence in the City

New website aims to involve youth in social problem solving

Friday, April 15, 2011

PHILADELPHIA (April 15, 2011)—For young people in Philadelphia’s high-poverty neighborhoods violence is a way of life. It is now more likely that a young, black male will die a violent death in Philadelphia than in combat in the Middle East. Cooperation with law enforcement is non-existent, and a pervasive fear has silenced the innocent. As schools and parks have become battlegrounds, there are fewer and fewer places for youth to feel safe.

Researchers at Saint Joseph’s University’s Richard Johnson Center for Anti-Violence have been hard at work building an online sanctuary for kids and teens who want to reclaim their voices and their neighborhoods. Building on the social media phenomenon and the 24/7 connectedness of this generation, the Philadelphia Youth Solutions Project (PYSP) has launched a website with the aim of providing an online forum ( for youth to discuss violence. This effort is a first-of-its-kind grassroots anti-violence initiative.

“The PYSP website is a safe space for Philadelphia’s young people to explain their views and emotions about the danger and violence that consumes so much of their daily lives,” said Maria Kefalas, Ph.D., director of the Richard Johnson Center and professor of sociology. “We want them to ask questions of themselves and the people charged with running this city, and to have a serious conversation with teachers, parents, city officials, community leaders, state legislators, reporters and politicians.”

PYSP will tackle the many realities of urban youth: street-based violence and interpersonal or romantic violence. The Richard Johnson Center has already worked with youth to create their own public service viral videos, which can be found at, along with an online memorial paying tribute to victims and presenting facts and figures on the state of violence in the city.

“Today’s youth carry out so much of their socializing on the Internet,” Kefalas added. “If we can connect with them in this realm and engage them in thinking about the problems in their neighborhoods and beyond, then we can move toward reimagining their role in these neighborhoods.”

The Richard Johsnon Center plans to work with local schools to launch a letter-writing campaign to the Mayor and Police Commissioner, as well as feature youth driven performance art, original video production, poetry-writing and other forms of self-expression to form a viral anti-violence campaign and begin a youth-led movement against violence.

The PYSP website has been well received by community groups, policy makers, police officers and city representatives. The IVRP is looking to form relationships with youth groups, community groups and schools to introduce the website as a tool that teachers and group facilitators can use while leading youth in discussions on topics of violence and communities.

Amy McHugh, associate director of programs and outreach for the Richard Johnson Center says she’s most excited about developing this project from scratch. “I’ve spent the last several years working with at-risk youth and I’ve learned how grassroots initiatives can make a difference,” she said. “Young people have an amazing ability to effect change, as long as they’re given the right tools and the proper support.”

Media Contact

Kelly Welsh, Director of Communications for the College of Arts and Sciences, 610.660.1385,

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