100 Black Men of America, Inc. (The 100) recently participated in a televised discussion on gun violence called “The Gun Fight.” Since the taping of that show, gun violence in our communities has become even more personal because it has again directly impacted more of our mentees.
Zaevion Dobson had been a mentee of 100 Black Men of Greater Knoxville since he was 8 years old. You’ve heard his story: The standout sophomore football player at Fulton High School in Knoxville, Tenn. was attending a gathering of teammates and friends when a gunman drove by opening fire. Without regard for his own life, Zaevion dove on top of three young ladies to shield them. He gave his life that day. Weeks later in Washington, D.C., another 100 mentee was walking down the street, when a car pulled up and one of its passengers said, “If you want to live, you need to run.” He began running, and they began shooting. The mentee was shot, but unlike Zaevion, he will survive. But with what scars?
I realize that there are many contributing factors to this carnage in our communities and no single answer to end this rampant disrespect for life. Too many people merely want to debate gun policy and gun laws, while our children are being murdered at places they are supposed to be – homes, churches, schools and playgrounds.
Gun violence is a critical public health issue impacting communities of every economic stature and ethnic demographic nationally. The FBI’s 2014 Crime in the United States report found that 82 percent of whites murdered by guns where killed by other whites. Similarly, 90 percent of blacks murdered by guns where killed by other blacks. The mental and physical health affects of gun violence, however, impact us all. If we don’t stop the rhetoric and start investing in interventions that impact young people’s lives, we will continue to suffer consequences of gun violence in cities nationwide.
The 100’s mentoring services teach youth how to make better choices, provide guidance on setting and achieving goals, and demonstrate how to diffuse situations before they escalate to tragic consequences. Our economic empowerment programs promote job skills training, financial literacy and entrepreneurship. Our health and wellness initiatives increase students’ school attendance rates, which have a direct impact on their ability to learn, earn and succeed. That’s why education reform is one of The 100’s top priorities, and we are pushing hard in our advocacy efforts with local and national policy-makers to ensure that every student in every community has access to high-performing schools and high-quality teachers.
Gun violence cut short the life of Zaevion Dobson, one so full of hope and promise. The time for talking and debating is over. We must take swift and decisive action to end this crisis in our communities before another precious life is needlessly lost.