June is Gun Violence Awareness Month, and as it comes to a close, we’ve been reflecting on the way that gun violence impacts our community at The Children’s Village (CV).
There are times where gun violence hits especially close, such as last year’s killing of Jayquan Mckenley, a member of our Varsity Basketball team, budding musician and rapper, and a joyful presence at CV.
More often, the impacts of gun violence in our community make fewer headlines but are no less tragic. So many of the families and young people that we work with across all of our programming live with the constant threat of gun violence in their neighborhoods and carry the grief and trauma of losing loved ones. Too many young people feel the need to pick up a gun, continuing a cycle of violence.
At The Children’s Village, we try to offer alternative paths forward for young people in our care. Key to this effort are credible messengers across several our programs, particularly those aimed at preventing justice system involvement or recidivism.
Mr. Gibbs is the lead mentor with one of our juvenile justice programs. He and his colleague, Mr. Wade, say that young men most often pick up guns seeking either self-protection or the illusion of power. A deep understanding of New York City communities that experience this violence allows the mentors to meet young people where they are and connect on a personal level.
“With lived experience as both a victim and perpetrator of gun violence, I understand the magnitude of the harm,” says Mr. Gibbs. “In neither of those situations, a gun didn’t fix the issue. No one was safer for it.”
Mr. Wade says open conversations and relationship building are core to their work in juvenile justice, where they hope that young men won’t be back.
“Before they are discharged, we ask them what do you want? What are you afraid of? We give them an opportunity to share what they are facing,” said Mr. Wade. “We work with them to set in motion a plan to navigate the temptations and barriers they will have reentering a community that has gun violence.”
At The Children’s Village, we believe that individualized support and resources are critical in making a difference, but to truly address high rates of gun violence, our city and country needs broad investment in communities marginalized by racism. The antidote for gun violence isn’t just one targeted solution, but systemic change. (Some of the changes we advocate for are outlined in this op-ed.)
When Mr. Gibbs has asked groups of young people to imagine an ideal future for their community, they have lots of answers at the ready—including good education, recreational opportunities, and quality housing.
“One thing we know is true—if you ask kids what they want, what they need to be whole, none of them say they want a gun or to be violent.”