Buffalo, Laguna Woods, Uvalde. These are names we will remember, at least for a while. Sadly, most of the names of cities where mass shootings (defined as four or more people shot) or other gun violence occur we do not remember. We never even hear them.
One or more mass shootings have occurred every single day in this country in 2022. Here in Washington, there have been 10 mass shootings in the past 12 years. Despite ranking ninth in the country for the strength of our gun laws, our state is sixth when it comes to the frequency of these devastating mass events. Only California, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Illinois rank higher according to Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s largest gun-violence prevention organization.
A crisis beyond big events
But the country’s gun violence crisis reaches far beyond mass shooting events. On average, 321 people are shot every day in the U.S. Of those, 42 are murdered and 65 die by suicide. Yes, 210 survive; but their lives – and the lives of those around them – are changed forever. Too often, violence begets violence.
As a mother and grandmother, I am horrified by this uniquely American epidemic. I grieve for those killed and their families. I worry about my own seven grandbabies, but at a deeper level, I am mad as hell.
I know too well how this unending stream of shootings can lead to hopelessness, apathy and the fear that nothing can be done about it, so we needn’t try.
Stopping the madness
That is why I am so grateful to know that we can do something to stop this madness. We can take meaningful action. I am also deeply heartened when I meet people in our local community who are taking a stand – my colleagues at Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, for example, and mothers like Lynniah Grayson.
Grayson is the founder of Resilient in Sustaining Empowerment (rise4us.org), a Seattle-based organization committed to ending intergenerational gun violence by supporting those directly impacted by it: vulnerable children, mothers and families.
Support groups and other resources for mothers, kids and family
Grayson, who along with her young daughter was personally impacted by gun death, says such support – including 8-week facilitated grief-support groups – can keep young victims from growing into future victims or perpetrators of gun violence.
I am a grandmother. Grayson is a mother. There is power in these roles, perhaps the greatest power. It is time for all of us to act. It is essential that we not just stay the course, but up our game.
Here are excerpts from my recent conversation with this trailblazing activist:
What has been your personal experience with gun violence?
My 2011 high school class has been cut down to half due to the impacts of gun violence. Either folks are in cemeteries or they are in the penitentiary. I lost my 5-year-old daughter’s father to gun violence. Terrence and I knew each other from first grade. He became my first boyfriend at age 13. On February 6, 2021 Terrence was shot in a mass shooting at a nightclub. He died instantly.
What was most helpful to you in your grief?
There was nowhere for my family to turn that was culturally specific, that was safe, that was sacred. There were no resources. There was nothing.
What was most helpful for me was to put a system in place, develop a curriculum to support the mothers and children as a whole and to create a place for the families to go when tragedy strikes. What’s been most rewarding is connecting those dots and connecting therapists and mental health specialists directly with families and children. If we don’t connect those dots, children and their families will continue to suffer.
Traumatic grief, all grief, isolates you. We want to prevent that isolation. We want to provide opportunities for families to be in the community. There’s so much power that comes from being in community with one another.
What is RISE?
RISE provides tools to assist in trauma recovery, healing-centered engagement, positive identity, professional development and grief support for families impacted by gun violence. It offers a holistic approach, looking at a person’s mind, body and spirit. What does this individual need in order to recover? And then to sustain that recovery.
A majority of our children are infants to 7 years of age. It’s important to do multiple levels of prevention and intervention early on to prevent the children from becoming high-risk or at-risk youth.
We’ve been very strategic about what that looks like.
Tell me more about how lack of support following gun violence impacts a child?
We know the reality.. Children and youth exposed to chronic trauma can experience inhibited brain development. If we can intervene and support them with different outlets, educate them, talk to them, allow them to speak and to express themselves, they can move forward and recover from childhood trauma. If unaddressed, typically due to lack of resources, childhood mental health problems will likely continue to grow and this will show up in all areas of children’s lives. Then they end up at high risk for experiencing or perpetrating gun violence later in life.
Keep in mind that our community and our country has unaddressed generational and historical trauma on top of trauma inflicted by social conditions, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and so much more. To add the direct impact of gun violence, it all becomes a recipe for disaster, disease, disability and death.
What we have found in working with families is that it wasn’t just the child who lost their father. The mother also lost the father to gun violence or her brother or her uncle. Oftentimes, with the disproportion of Black and African American people (impacted by gun violence), trauma is intergenerational.
Is there anybody else in the country doing your work?
No, there is not. There’s no other organization that is providing the support that we are providing, which is why I’m now thinking of ways to develop a curriculum, a framework, that we can offer around the country.
Mothers and children are often underrepresented, overlooked or completely forgotten. To get different results, you have to do something you’ve never done before – and we’ve never stopped and pivoted to focus on the mother and small children impacted by gun violence.
If we focus on the mom, the head of the household now, because the father’s removed, and focus on the children, they won’t become high-risk youth who are picking up guns, activated in a different way that does not serve society.
A lot of the mothers are in survival mode. When a woman is falling, when everything’s falling apart for her, who keeps her together? She needs support. By helping the mothers to recover and helping them to get sustainable incomes and careers, their children are helped as well.
What lifts you and enables you to keep doing the work when you’re worn out or discouraged?
The families. Their responses. The children and their responses. It’s so powerful being with mothers who are suffering on so many levels, but still they show up for each other and for their children, having little to no support at all.
There’s so much power in the room, so much strength in the room.
I tell folks all the time: If I had to go to war, I know who I would call.
I wouldn’t call any men. I would call these women right here. Because no matter what happens, they’re going to show up.
Some parents may be afraid to send their children to school. What can you say to them to give them hope or have them feel safer?
I think that it’s very important for all families to become involved in this public health crisis. Gun violence requires the same level of investment that was made in COVID-19. Why? Because it impacts us all. Gun violence is one of the most common ways to die, but easily the most preventable.