Engaging Impacted Communities in Reducing Gun Violence

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence recognizes that we must engage impacted communities – specifically communities of color – in our work to reduce gun deaths. Using a public health and equity framework, we partner with impacted communities to tackle both the root causes of violence and the unregulated access to firearms that fuels it. Through our Engaging Impacted Communities program we develop authentic relationships with community leaders and organizers, host advocacy workshops, and build community-driven advocacy networks.

Amplifying the work of the communities impacted by daily gun violence.

Gun violence is highly concentrated within neighborhoods composed of predominantly Black and Hispanic/Latino residents. These neighborhoods face a host of systemic inequalities – hypersegregation, discrimination, lack of economic opportunities, and under-resourced public services – that fuel gun violence. As a result, young Black and Hispanic/Latino Americans are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. Homicide is the leading cause of death for Black males ages 15 to 34 and the second most common cause of death for Hispanic men ages 15 to 34. Black females ages 15 to 34 are nearly seven times more likely than their non-Hispanic White counterparts to be murdered by firearms.

Yet, far too often Black and Brown communities impacted by gun violence are left out of the policymaking process.

As a result, proposed gun violence prevention policies are often limited and insufficient at addressing the daily gun violence many Black and Brown communities face. To comprehensively address the epidemic of gun violence in our country we must amplify the insights from those who are disproportionately impacted. Those who are closest to the pain know what solutions to gun violence work within their communities. By bringing impacted communities to the forefront of the advocacy and policymaking process we can make gun violence rare and abnormal.

Our Journey

Over the past seven years, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence has worked to promote community engagement and political involvement within communities of color that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence.

In 2015 we partnered with the Urban Institute, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, and the Joyce Foundation to convene nearly 50 community members in Richmond, Virginia to provide insights into how to curb gun violence within communities of color. Combined with parallel convenings in Stockton, California and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the result was a report titled Engaging Communities in Reducing Gun Violence, which called for a holistic and multifaceted public health approach that tackles the structural barriers at the root of gun violence.

This report provided the framework for our Engagement Impacted Communities programming. Based on the findings in the report we developed advocacy workshops and materials to expand and diversify our advocacy work in Virginia. We conducted extensive outreach, community organizing, and engagement in impacted communities across the commonwealth. Through these efforts we developed the Virginia Action Network (VAN), which is composed of community members, faith leaders, law enforcement, and elected and appointed officials. Over the past five years the VAN helped pass a series of gun safety laws in Virginia, secured millions of dollars for community-based violence prevention initiatives, and assisted in the implementation of a violence prevention initiative in Hampton, Virginia. In recent years, we have expanded our Engaging Impacted Communities program to Minnesota,
Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Wisconsin, where we partner with community organizers, providing advocacy materials and technical expertise to help them build advocacy networks and engage impacted communities.

Our Approach

We use a public health and equity lens to partner with impacted communities. Working with impacted communities of color we identify and implement evidence-based policy and programs to reduce gun violence.

To stop gun violence, we must both address firearm availability and promote community-based interventions which engage community members, interrupt cycles of violence, and build political activism. Specifically we work with Black and Brown communities to:

Address the root causes of gun violence
● Ensure funding for violence intervention and prevention programs
● Pass and implement comprehensive gun safety laws using procedurally just policing practices

To accomplish these aims we first build genuine relationships with community members. We then use our research-based Education to Action toolkit to turn these relationships into self-sustaining Community Advocacy Networks (CANs). We facilitate dialogue between the CANs and key stakeholders in research and policy development allowing individuals from impacted communities to advocate for policies to reduce gun violence.

The Education to Action program mobilizes and trains community members to advocate for policies that reduce gun violence. This toolkit and workshop highlight how advocacy for evidence-based gun violence prevention policies is linked to a broader set of community concerns. It acts as an organizing tool to facilitate increased outreach, involvement, and empowerment within the community.

Community Advocacy Networks (CANs) are advocacy groups from communities statewide that advance an evidence-based, holistic approach to tackle gun violence in communities of color by hosting skills-building workshops and events that bring together law enforcement, community members, faith leaders, researchers, and politicians. They create a space for individuals to become active leaders within their communities, fighting for policies that will build healthy communities free of violence and inequity.

Facilitating dialogue between community members and researchers: The Engaging Impacted Communities program provides CANs with the latest gun violence prevention research and data. Our programming fosters discussions about equity and gun violence prevention research and policy. We invite leading researchers in the field of public health, law, and policy to engage in dialogue with community members impacted by daily gun violence. These connections allow community members to more effectively use research in their advocacy efforts and researchers to consider equity considerations when conducting their research.

Our Impact

Kaaleah’s Story: Kaaleah Jones was a toddler when her father was shot and killed in Hampton, Virginia, the community she’s grown up in and still sees plagued by senseless violence. An activist since early childhood, she got involved in the Engaging Impacted Communities program in middle school to learn more about how to stop the violence within her community. The Education to Action program gave Kaaleah tools to further develop her skills as a community organizer who advocates to stop gun violence, as well as on public safety, economic opportunity, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. She met with her legislators and followed up with phone calls and letters. She produced a testimonial video, and spoke at events and before city council – even encouraging her mother to run for city council. Now a college student, Kaaleah continues to be a voice for the next generation of advocates as she facilitates workshops and lobbies her elected officials.

“Through my activist work in the community [..] I ensure that my father’s legacy will live on, not only
through me, but through the children we have saved in our community. Maybe my dad couldn’t influence the youth like he wanted to, but I have picked up in his footsteps.”

– Kaaleah Jones

Our Reach: Within seven years, our program has expanded from one site in Hampton, Virginia to sites across the country through strategic partnerships that empower thousands of individuals to organize, and to influence state and local policymakers to pass comprehensive gun violence prevention policies. Through our efforts, we successfully secured millions of dollars for community-based violence intervention and prevention programs, passed a wide range of evidence-based gun safety laws, and helped build an evidence-based program that fosters trust between public safety officials and community members to collaboratively address gun violence. These efforts have helped diversify the gun violence prevention movement in Virginia and encouraged our state and national partners to consider equity in their advocacy efforts.

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (Ed Fund) is a 501(c)(4) affiliate organization of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. We use a public health and equity lens to identify and implement evidence-based policy solutions and programs to reduce gun violence in all its forms. We seek to make gun violence rare and abnormal.


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