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For as long as I can remember, it has been my life’s goal to give back to my community. There have been so many times where I’ve fallen, and it was only thanks to family, neighbors and friends that I could get back up on my feet. 

This is why I am so thankful and proud of the work I do as a Hospital Trauma Liaison within my Cleveland, Ohio, community. Since 2016, I have worked with the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance to support the youth in our community as a way of saving lives and tackling gun violence. Ours is a hospital-based violence interrupters program, supporting victims of violent crimes while getting to the root of these traumatic experiences. In 2019, the Cleveland Peace Alliance program supported more than 130 patients, while helping de-escalate countless other possible violent altercations in hospital waiting rooms.

Full stop: this work is not for the faint of heart.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached our shores, the rate of gun violence in my city has surged. Ironically, 35 people were shot in Cleveland during Wear Orange Weekend, a time meant to raise awareness about the toll of gun violence in America.

But I remain undeterred. I know that people like me are saving lives every day. I’m able to support gun violence victims and help them access the resources they need to get help and change their lives. Many times, said resources are helping to assist with basic unmet needs such as housing and food. Other times, we’re looking at issues with substance abuse, neglect and unemployment.

However, we cannot do this work alone. It is time for our lawmakers to step in and provide the funds and support needed to keep these programs running.

That’s why I am excited to be working with Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) on their Heroes Campaign, a project honoring community advocates like me while calling on lawmakers to immediately pass legislation that would support our work. Earlier this year, AIUSA called on the Biden-Harris Administration and Congress to authorize $5 billion in federal funding over the next eight years in investments for effective, community violence intervention programs working to protect our nation’s youth. And now I am joining them to do the same.

While President Joe Biden has vocally supported this effort, we need Congress to act now. With the summer in full swing, gun violence will rise, with many in roles like mine pulling double duty with little to no resources in our arsenal to keep our communities and children safe.

Like many who do this work, I am navigating my trauma as I work to help others. As a native to this city, I know all too well how a young person’s potential and future can be snuffed out in an instant because of a poor decision. There are people in my life who’ve lost more than one child to gun violence. But these are the stories that don’t make the news.

Black trauma is silent, and the important work we do to combat gun violence is invisible to many — including our lawmakers.

Every year, our city, state and national leaders speak out on ending the violence and finding ever-illusive solutions, but the solutions have been in their backyards all along — funding community violence intervention programs.

It is time that our leaders sit down with community activists like me and listen to how decades of poor infrastructure, food deserts, little school funding, and high costs of housing and living are creating conditions that are literally killing our children. 

I’ve learned that ending gun violence is a community effort more so than an individualized one. I am a mother of two and I have seven grandchildren, so I know all too well that if one person in the house gets sick, everyone else is at risk. This is why the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance is so successful: we know that only through a collective, holistic approach can things change.

When I speak to the youth in my neighborhood, their wants are so heartbreakingly simple: they just want a job. They say to me, “I just want a place to lay my head every day where the lights come on and there’s food available.”

I firmly believe we can make this a reality for all, but we need a true unified front to do so. I’ve been to over 15 funerals this year. I’d like this number to decrease next year, but it can only happen when our lawmakers treat this issue for what it truly is — a human rights crisis.


Mar’Yum Patterson is a Hospital Trauma Liaison with the Cleveland Peacemakers Alliance.