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Op-Ed: ONS Director DeVone Boggan on Newtown, Richmond, and violence

Remain Vigilant Richmond!

By DeVone Boggan

There is an African Proverb that I am fond of quoting.  It says: “The experience of one generation becomes the history of the next, and the history of several generations becomes the traditions of a people.”

On December 14, 2012 like many Americans and peoples from around the world, I found myself once again extremely grieved by the horrible reality that gun violence IS in many of our American, particularly urban communities.  We here in Richmond experience and understand that reality far too well. Much too much! Much too often!

Like in Newtown, Connecticut, too many Richmond parents have experienced a kind of nightmare that no parent should ever have to experience, and countless more have been traumatized by such evil.

My respected elder and friend Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense Fund in Washington D.C. recently noted that “since 1979 when gun death data were first collected by age, a shocking 119,079 children and teens have been killed by gun violence. That is more child and youth deaths inAmerica than American battle deaths in World War I (53,402) or inVietnam (47,434) or in the Korean War (33,739) or in the Iraq War (3,517).” She further asks “Where is our anti-war movement to protect youth from pervasive gun violence here at home?”

In Richmond, fourteen families have lost a loved one to the unspeakable horror of gun violence this year (2012). Where ONE is too many, fourteen is a travesty and utterly unacceptable! Although Richmond has experienced a trend towards fewer firearm related injuries and deaths over the past 5 years, we cannot rest, become complacent or halt our efforts to ensure that our city is healthier safer and as prosperous as it can be for everyone – where firearm related deaths are as uncommon and unlikely as snowfall is in Richmond during the coldest of winter months.  We as a community know that there is still a great deal more to be done and accomplished to reach our ideal state – absolutely no firearm related incidents and homicides, year in, year out – sustained! 

To reach such a wholesome state in Richmond, each and all of us must do more to stop this intolerable and wanton epidemic of gun violence.  As a community, we cannot continue to solely talk about, be angry about it, be divisive about it, politicize it, want money for it, want credit for it, we must BE about it. This also requires that we must collectively agree that this is what we want and deserve, and then we must believe that it is possible.

Furthermore, we who are working towards this ambitious goal must understand and clearly operate in such a way that we communicate in our doing that we understand that not one of us working to end this epidemic can do it alone.  There is no one strategy, agency, church, preacher, community based organization or super-person that can create the new reality that we seek here inRichmond.  The answer lies in first our example and humanity towards one another, and then our combined efforts and resources, the integration of a multitude of services, whether public, private, philanthropic or the indigenous, grassroots Richmond community assets working together to create the conditions that will help to produce our new reality – Healthy Kids, Healthy Families and Communities – A Healthy City!

I must remind us that the community of assets referenced above must also include those often identified and/or suspected as being commonly associated with and/or responsible for gun violence in our city.  In partnership, I am grateful for many of these identified young men who have been intentional and courageous about making healthier choices regarding their responses to the daily barrage of conflict they must confront simply because they live in a particular geography.  More and more they are rejecting the onslaught of bad advice, bad information, bad example and bad instruction that they’ve received and lived for much of their lives. We all benefit by their resisting spirit and intelligent humanity.  They too are helping us to do something that we cannot do successfully by ourselves.

In response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the President of the United States Barack Obama reminded us that “whether it’s an elementary school inNewtown or a shopping mall in Oregon or Colorado or a street corner in Chicago these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children.” On the streets of North, Central, and South Richmond, THESE ARE OUR Neighborhoods and our Youth and Young Adults, our Kids, our Future! The state of each of these is a reflection of our traditions. Our LEGACY!

The footprints that we leave behind, tells the future something about who we were. What will the footprints that we leave behind tell the future Richmond about our character, our integrity, our priorities and what and who was important to us? How we prepared, strengthened and protected our kids, youth and young adults?

If we do not immediately work to further and more resolutely create lived experiences where healthy eldership and mentorship takes responsibility for refining and reproducing the best of itself in the next generation, the traditions we pass on will not be strong enough to keep evil and chaos from destroying our children, our families, our communities.

So I say Rejoice during this Holiday Season, cherish and hug those you love, rejuvenate and get ready to BE and DO your part – Remain Vigilant Richmond!

DeVone Boggan serves as Neighborhood Safety Director and Director of the City of Richmond Office of Neighborhood Safety.