The Lead

Philly names its first victims’ advocate: Adara Combs’ family was touched by gun violence

By: - February 2, 2022 11:06 am

Adara Combs (Philadelphia Tribune photo).

By Brian Saunders

PHILADELPHIA — As someone who has been personally touched by gun violence, Adara Combs has made it her duty to give a voice to the underrepresented, ensuring all people get the justice they seek.

Mayor Jim Kenney nominated Combs to lead the Office of the Philadelphia Victim Advocate on Jan. 20. City Council confirmed Combs to be the leader last week. On Monday, she was introduced to news media members ahead of the office’s official opening.

“With Adara’s deep knowledge of the impact of crime on victims and their loved ones, the complexities of the criminal justice system, and her community ties as a native Philadelphian, I’m confident that she is the right person to lead this important new office,” Kenney said. “The creation of the Office of the Victim Advocate and Adara’s confirmation as the Victim Advocate for the Office is a step towards guaranteeing that crime victims in Philadelphia have the supports they need to regain a sense of normalcy.”

The office, which City Councilmember Kenyatta Johnson introduced in 2020, will act as a hub for victims and co-victims of gun violence but also domestic violence, carjackings, property theft amongst other things.

“This announcement has been several years of hard work, but most importantly, dedication to addressing the issue of gun violence, particularly of victims and co-victims of gun violence and severely impacted here in the city of Philadelphia,” Johnson said.

Johnson said while the conversations often center on criminal justice reform, the people impacted by the violence become an afterthought.

“This office will serve as a hub to make sure we’re addressing the systematic issues around public policy, resources, advocacies but most importantly, making sure there’s a voice for those who have lost loved ones,” Johnson said.

Combs, who has lost family members to gun violence, most recently worked as a supervisor of the Juvenile Division of the District Attorney’s Office.

“The necessity for the Office of Victim Advocate is birthed out of the trauma that our city has endured,” Combs said. “I became a lawyer because I wanted to be a prosecutor. I wanted to be a prosecutor because I wanted to fight for victims. So the fact that this office was created at this moment in time and the fact that I’m able to serve in this position is kind of a full-circle moment.”

Combs said she plans to engage the community and be out in the streets, letting people know what is available to them and finding all the resources they need.

“It’s important to me that Philadelphians know that we exist, know what we do, and know how we can service them,” Combs said. “And to do that, I need to know what the community wants and what the community needs. I am a huge proponent of the belief that you can’t fight for someone if you don’t know what they want you to fight for. So it’ll be important to me to connect with the community to be out in the community to stand side by side with the advocates that are already doing this work to determine what’s necessary and how I can best show up for that.”

Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and national director of Mothers in Charge, said the office is long overdue. Mothers in Charge is an advocacy group that teaches violence prevention through education and intervention.

“We are so excited about this office, Philadelphia Victim Advocate Office,” she said. “This is something that victims and co-victims have wanted and needed for many, many years. But, you know, often families will feel that they don’t have a voice. But now, we organizations that do this work have a real advocate, and this comes who is so qualified.”

Although Combs has been announced as the office leader, the program won’t officially have everything set up for a few weeks, and she does not start until Monday. In the meantime, Philadelphians can reach out for help by emailing [email protected] or calling (215) 686-0789.

Brian Saunders is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.

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