Gun violence prevention program needs to engage community

New MGH center should listen to those closest to the pain

LAST YEAR, when the National Rifle Association told physicians advocating for increased gun control to “stay in their lane,” the move backfired for the organization by inspiring emergency room doctors and surgeons to take to social media to share heartbreaking firsthand accounts of treating – and sometimes losing – patients who were victims of shootings.

Locally, physicians at Massachusetts General Hospital have responded by launching the Center for Gun Violence Prevention to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths through new training initiatives, promotion of gun safety, and community engagement.

We encourage physicians to not only swerve out of their lane to address this issue head on, but to also drive to the communities affected most by gun violence to listen and really understand the realities of living under this threat on a daily basis. Engage with community activists in authentic ways: Listen more than you speak and feel the pain that we feel, no matter how much it pulls you from your comfort zone, because for us, there is no comfort zone.

Too often activists who are immersed in the work of gun violence 24 hours a day are consulted to bring an element of “street cred” to programs operated by elite academics. But this has to be a two-way street – give us the same respect by lending us your legitimacy, platform, and access to resources otherwise unavailable to us. As Tina Chéry of the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute said at the launch of MGH’s Center for Gun Violence Prevention, “More often than not, communities of color do not benefit when these major announcements are made and the struggle and fight continues for us.”

We applaud the intentions behind the creation of the Center for Gun Violence Prevention, but ask its founders and leaders across the city to approach gun violence prevention with the same urgency, anger, and sensitivity as if it were happening in your own neighborhoods to your children. Include the leaders on the ground who have been doing the work for years without resources, support, or validation.

When Mayor Walsh celebrates the 9 percent drop in crime over the past year, he diminishes the very real trauma created by the 20 percent increase in non-fatal shootings and the loss of 22 Boston residents to gun violence thus far in 2019. As Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins said at the launch of the MGH initiative in June, “There are young black and brown men that die every single day on the streets of Dorchester, Roxbury, Mattapan, Jamaica Plain, and Chelsea, but we don’t see the news there every day.”

Our allies in the medical field need to understand that we can’t go home to a quiet refuge at the end of a long day. We can’t tune out the violence by taking our children to the playground or for a walk around the block. Being black in America feels like running a race and having someone continually move the finish line.

Meet the Author

Monica Cannon-Grant

Director, Violence in Boston Inc.
Meet the Author
We are asking our allies in this work to stop the chase and come to us – to listen, to learn, to cry, and to heal with us – even if our anger and pain makes you uncomfortable and gives you the urge to coast back into your lane. Park your car and stay a while; together we can accomplish incredible things.

Monica Cannon-Grant is founder and director of Violence in Boston, Inc., an organization that aims to improve the quality of life and outcomes of individuals from disenfranchised communities by reducing the prevalence of violence and the impact of associated trauma. Kristin Johnson is the founder of Boston Political Education, a blog focused on local politics and education.