August 22, 2012

Violence Prevention: A Life Saving Story

You can listen to my personal experience with gun violence (click play above) or read the story in my post on  In writing this post, I reached out to Dr. Carl Bell, a psychiatrist and national leading public health expert on violence prevention. He helped me think more about basic principles of violence prevention, which in his view involve:
  • rebuilding the neighborhoods and communities
  • providing adequate access to affordable, high quality health care
  • enabling supportive programs that build self-esteem and increasing social skills
  • reestablishing the adult protective shield for young people
  • minimizing the residual effects of trauma
In "Violence Prevention 101: Implications for Policy Development" Dr. Bell states that "these principles are interdependent and are key guiding principles for effecting large, systemic changes in health behavior."  

Furthermore, Dr. Bell also talks about the importance of collaboration because it takes the forces of combined leadership to engage with communities in search of solutions through policy and practice.   It also takes understanding the different kinds of violence and the root cause that are specific to geographic locations and local populations. Policy efforts can be shaped with compelling evidence and stories demonstrating the cost and life saving value of prevention and effective harm reduction strategies.

For example, the New York City neighborhood where I grew the "Peace is a Lifestyle" campaign to put an end to gun violence in the streets of New York City, which is among the most prevalent form of violence affecting the lives young people in already vulnerable communities.

Death Rates from Gun Homicides for Males (Aged 25-34)
City Limits chart using CDC data shows violence disproportionately affects young men of color, particularly in African American communities.

The landscape of violence moving across America is striking. Dr. William Petit's story of losing his family to a violent home invasion in a Connecticut suburb feels like Truman Capote's narrative where incomprehensible acts of violence, loss of life stun, enrage and numb.  When medical school Dean Dr. Steven Berk's The Anatomy of A Kidnapping opens his own telling of a late night gunpoint encounter it becomes more evident that violence is a pervasive and growing epidemic from Main Street to heart of the city.  It's an experience that trauma and emergency medical centers know too well, but a story for America to behold for better days ahead.

I've pledged with the Centers for Disease Control to educate others about the full scope of violence: it can be emotional, physical, and/or sexual in nature. You can also Veto Violence by clicking the link below:


Bell CC. Violence prevention 101: Implications for policy development. In: Perspective on crime and justice: 2000–2001 Lecture Series. Vol. 5. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice; 2002: 65–94 

Berk SL. Anatomy of a Kidnapping: A Doctor's Story. Lubbock, TX: Texas Tech Univ; 2012.

August 14, 2012

a global haiku

I spent time with scholar, poet and activist Sonia Sanchez during the International Conference on Health in the African Diaspora — ICHAD 2012 in Baltimore, Maryland last month. Thomas LaVeist, Ph.D., conference chairman and director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore said that the ICHAD vision was borne from his eye-opening experiences in Salvador da Bahia, Brazil. He wanted to find more ways for the more than 160 million Afro descendants across the Western hemisphere to move from surviving to thriving by considering pathways for health and healing through an interdisciplinary lens including public health, history and with the evidence of research that can also inform policy and practice in the future. LaVeist called on Sanchez to open the dialogue. 

On her arrival, Sonia and I made a 4th of July trip to a nearby Whole Foods Market.  I thought she wanted more ripe fruits and a selection from the vegetarian food bar. I offered to go for her, but she insisted on going together.  It was phenomenal to watch folks respond to Sonia, she greeted people with open arms.  While in line our cashier kept a steady gaze on Sonia while also trying to focus on the preceding customer.  By the time our turn came at the register the awestruck cashier was visibly flustered. When we got just outside the exit door the cashier ran from her station to Sonia with tear-filled eyes. She said, “I knew it was you. I just had to come and thank you for your work. Your words have made all the difference in my life especially in the hard times when it seemed I had no where to turn. I honor you. I just couldn’t let you go without speaking.”  Sonia listened and a few others gathered to share in the moment.

I’m still thinking these excursions are about shopping when on our next trip to back to Whole Foods Market the following day, we bumped into actor Antonio Bandera who was in line buying lunch. Sonia then spotted the soulful singer-songwriter Me'shell Ndegeocello who sings "Fool of Me" in the movie Love Jones.  There was spirited impromtu community celebration at the front door of the store. We then moved on to the aisle of the hot food bar this time Sanchez was spotted by a manager and a small crowd quickly huddled around. As I watched this unfold, it came to me that Sonia was opening up her space for people to share in.  She was moving through an agenda of connection and community engagement.  She was taking time to hear about what was going with people’s lives. Sanchez was checking-in on the pulse of the community.  She was doing the same when I caught up with her again on a panel at the Harlem Book Fair earlier this summer.

Her reading selections and reflections during ICHAD 2012 came from Does Your House Have Lions? (Beacon Press, 1997) an epic poem focused on the healing narrative of her brother’s battle with AIDS.  Sanchez is clear about the work we must take on as individuals and communities for healing.  She asks the question “What does it mean to be human?”  She calls on us to examine our biases, shed stereotypes, shatter stigma and pull out the roots of the disease killing us all, silence.  In this book, Sanchez offers a community of voices for balm.

brother’s voice

i linger in stethoscopes and thermometers at Lenox Hill
i have entered the hospital to test
the cough and the temperature making me ill
i have entered the hospital to rest
and all i have discovered is unrest
the doctors says happily it is not pneumonia or cancer
the doctor says my temperature is like a trickster

In spending time with Sanchez I wanted to know more of her genius and life as an artist, scholar and as a black woman, she is the first professor to develop and teach a seminar on African American women’s literature.  Sonia Sanchez has published sixteen books including I’m Black When I’m Singing, I’m Blue When I Ain’t and other plays (Duke University Press, 2010).  Sanchez taught for 22 years at Temple University, she pioneered the Black studies program at San Francisco State and is a co-founder of the Black Arts movement.  She has made impressions within the minds and hearts of the global African diaspora and beyond for more than half a century.

Sanchez offered me valuable lessons in the healing practice of storytelling that begins with open arms and listening closely. She also has me thinking about a haiku life.

The morning sunlight
A day break call in real time
to hear nature’s song
                                             —Katherine Ellington