Let’s Finally Seize the Moment to End Gun Violence
“It’s not rocket science!” says Kyung-Ji Kate Rhee, Co-Executive Director at the Center for NuLeadership on Human Justice & Healing (NuLeadership).
“Just look at what’s happening everyday in Silicon Valley—there are billions of dollars being spent trying to understand consumer behavior and the range of impulses that compel people to behave in certain ways. Why can’t we harness this same energy and apply it to understanding and preventing gun violence?” she argues.
June is Gun Violence Awareness Month. As a mother who has raised two Black boys in Brooklyn, whenever I read about another instance of violence or senseless threats targeted at our schools and young people, I just want the madness to stop. It is time that our nation finally makes a serious commitment to finding a cure for gun violence.
Through our Invest in Youth grantmaking initiative, we have been supporting racial justice organizations like NuLeadership as they help young people develop solutions to their biggest challenges, including gun violence, safety, and community-wide trauma. Our aim is to get youth-centered organizations the resources they need to realize our vision for a Brooklyn where young people can do and be anything, and live freely, without fear.
Human Justice = Human Rights + Human Development
As part of our listening tour this spring, I’ve been connecting with as many community organizations as time will allow. In fact, I recently found myself immersed in a fascinating conversation with Kyung-Ji and Chino Hardin, also Co-Executive Director at NuLeadership, about the impact that gun violence has on our society—and especially our local community. As we are all grieving over the tragic shootings in Uvalde, TX, Buffalo, NY, Philadelphia, PA, and across our nation, this conversation really hit home.
NuLeadership's mission is to shift our understanding and practices around public safety from focusing on criminal justice to a more holistic “human justice,” which can be thought of as the intersection of human rights and human development. But their work doesn’t stop there.
For over two decades, NuLeadership has worked at the community level to help improve the lives of Black, Indigenous, and all communities of color. Its goal has been to find human-centered alternatives to the highly punitive criminal justice system we currently have in place, and to focus on solutions that bring community healing—rather than outdated policies that perpetuate community trauma.
Their inventive, frontline community-based programs, include:
The Human Justice Training and Resource Lab. This program provides a space for local activists to share, collaborate, and support each other in their efforts to address what they see as oppressive systems.
NuLegacy. By connecting formerly incarcerated people to nature and the land, this program aims to disrupt the cycles of violence, fear, and trauma caused by prison.
The Village Apprenticeship Program. This training and apprenticeship program provides workers and employers with the knowledge, skills, and resources needed in a post-COVID marketplace.
Village Takeback. This intervention program is designed to keep people from getting trapped or crippled by the criminal justice system.
What’s amazing about NuLeadership is that they do so much more than provide programs. This is an organization that aims to revolutionize the way we think about and address challenges in our community. As we explore the relationship between white supremacy and gun violence, for instance, Kyung-Ji cautions against looking at gun violence in a vacuum—encouraging us instead to question why guns are in the communities in the first place, how our existing culture around guns developed, among other important considerations. “We need more than programs—we need to curate a space to confront our old contradictions; and this means bringing a new way of thinking to community organizing and self determination,” she argues.
Moving the Needle Requires a Long-term Commitment
In Kyung-Ji’s estimation, it takes 10 years to move the needle, which is why it’s so critical to have longtime supporters. “Brooklyn Community Foundation and its program officers are phenomenal. Everyone there is aligned with the needs of the community, and they understand the importance of investing in communities over the long term,” reflects Kyung-Ji.
When we think about gun violence, we often focus on the deaths. But the reality is that most people who are shot don’t die. Instead, they spend the rest of their lives dealing with the trauma of having been shot. Their families and loved ones carry this burden as well. In fact, it’s safe to say that entire communities shoulder the psychological burden of gun violence.
We’re thankful for all of the community-based organizations that are standing on the front lines and trying to make a difference. And knowing that organizations like NuLeadership are so energized to be part of changing things for the better gives me a glimmer of hope that we may finally see an end to gun violence. I hope you will continue to join us and invest in powerful community-led solutions that will get us to our vision for a better Brooklyn and a better world.