PJ Rainey, a 13-year-old girl from North Philadelphia, once had dreams of becoming a flight attendant, a career that could have taken her out of her rough neighborhood and into exciting cities around the world. PJ held onto that dream until recently, when an innocent walk home from a local playground changed her life forever.
That warm summer afternoon, PJ found herself caught in the crossfire of a violent gun battle, just blocks from her home. A stray bullet that could have taken her life ended up taking her eye.
Lisa Ling spoke with PJ and her parents, Chris and Christinea Rainey, on an "Our America" episode exploring the widespread danger of gun violence in America. Despite Philadelphia ranking among the highest in the nation for gun murders, this family didn't expect to find themselves so deeply affected by the violence.
"I never thought that would happen," Christinea Rainey says. "But I still have my baby. So, I'm grateful."
Other families are not as lucky. As Ling reports on "Our America," someone in Philadelphia is shot every seven hours.
As for PJ, she is adapting to life with one eye with incredible strength and optimism. While her impaired vision may prevent her from becoming a flight attendant, she tells Ling that she has a new goal in mind.
"I want to be a basketball player," she says with a smile.
PJ's parents are proud of her resilience, but admit that they still worry about their daughter's future.
"I want to believe she's going to be OK... She's still trying to treat her life normal, but I do see some of the things that a lot of people don't see," Chris Rainey tells Ling. "Sometimes she'll try to step around me, and she'll bump into me. Or I'll step on the other side of her, into her blind spot, and she'll just turn and bump into me, like, 'Where'd you go?' Little things like that, they eat me up inside."
Both parents believe that the origins of today's gun violence can be found in the legacy of a 1990s crack epidemic that flooded the neighborhood with guns.
"These guys don't got to buy a gun. They go home and get a gun. You ask, 'Where'd you get the gun from?' [They answer,] 'My uncle gave it to me. My cousin gave it to me,'" Chris says. "You don't even realize these guys are 13-, 14-, 15-year-old guys with guns. These guys are shooting guns that they can't even hold."
Regardless of all the different ways these young people can find access to guns, the fact remains that neighborhoods like PJ's have become dangerous for the families trying to make a living there.
"It's like living in a war zone," Chris says. "How many people have to die before we make a change?"