For Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), a Brooklyn-based violence intervention nonprofit, gun violence has always been a public health crisis.
So when earlier this week, New York became the first state in the country to acknowledge this, it served as validation for years of hard work.
“I am moved to tears,” Jacquel Clemons, KAVI’s COO, told BK Reader. “This is game changing for so many people.”
While she called the declaration “icing on the cake”, the real prize was the $10 million set aside in the state budget for hospital-based violence intervention programs and community-based violence interruption programs as part of the Community Violence Intervention Act.
For grassroots organizations like KAVI, the impact of this commitment from the state is huge.
“We rely totally on funding to make this happen and we are doing a lot with very little,” Clemons said.
And KAVI is doing a lot.
Pollinating BK with restorative justice
Started in 2009 by Dr. Robert Gore, an emergency physician at Kings County Hospital Center (KCHC), the organization is focused on providing violence intervention and restorative justice in three areas: hospitals, schools and community.
At KCHC, KAVI staff make contact with any 13-26-year-old admitted with an intentional injury, with the goal of helping deal with the trauma associated with these incidents, while also addressing the underlying causes of violence.
“Between the time that they are injured and the time they are discharged is the golden opportunity to redirect them,” Clemons said.
KAVI typically continues to support these young people for a year after their violent injury.
While redirecting victims of violence is crucial, reaching local youth before such an incident occurs is also a big part of KAVI’s work.
In local schools, their 33 week structured curriculum discusses power and oppression as well as the cycles of violence, while providing youth participants with a supportive space to learn.
The organization also recognized that in addition to providing their services to young people at risk of being impacted by violence, the community at large could also benefit.
“We need to be putting [restorative justice] tools in the hands of our community members so that after a violent incident communities don’t have to rely on systems for healing, they can lean on each other,” Clemons said. “It’s our goal to kind of pollinate Brooklyn with restorative justice.”
Pivot in pandemic
Over the past year, COVID-19 forced KAVI to take a step back and adapt.
With Dr. Gore busy working in the ER, and volunteer services no longer able to physically be in hospitals or schools, KAVI shifted online.
Staff held virtual sessions providing additional mental health support for young people, many of whom they found to be dealing with depression and anxiety due to factors related to the pandemic.
Then, last summer conversations about violence were brought to the forefront following the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the subsequent protests. In response, KAVI hosted virtual “healing circles” alongside Senator Zellnor Myrie in order to provide a therapeutic space for people to discuss traumatic experiences and feelings.
“The conversations weren’t really any different than the conversations that we’ve always had,” Clemons said.
“The injustices that our communities see is part of the layered ways that violence plays out. The attack on Black bodies, but also the community level trauma that we‘ve normalized for so long.”
Going forward, KAVI’s work remains essential and the passing of the Community Violence Intervention Act will help KAVI continue to provide and expand its services.
While it is unclear how the money will be distributed, any additional funds would allow the organization to hire more staff, including a full-time mental health professional. Most importantly, this newfound state support will help all organizations in their field to provide for those impacted by violence.
“It’s an exciting time for violence intervention,” Clemons said.
“$10 million is amazing but I think that this is just the beginning of the work that needs to be done for us to center violence intervention with a public health response.”
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