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Black Stories

An Interview with Gun Violence Prevention Advocate Anthony Smith

Tell us about how you’re involved in the gun violence prevention movement.

I’m the executive director of Cities United, where we support a network of mayors who are committed to working with their communities to reduce the homicides of young Black men and boys by 50 percent by 2025.

Is there a person or experience that motivated your decision to join the gun violence prevention movement?

I’ve been working in partnership with young folks for 20 years, and during that time I’ve attended way too many funerals for young men and women who were killed by gun violence. I can’t pinpoint one person or experience that motivated my decision, I just knew at a certain point that things had to be different and that our children deserve better.

What prompted you to get involved with Cities United?

I realized that if we really want to break the cycle of community violence, we need to work on changing the system and directing Cities United gives me a bigger platform to discuss those issues. It allows me to work with many mayors who are all committed to reducing gun violence in their cities, while also creating better outcomes for those most impacted by gun violence. It’s been an organic progression for me and, at the end of the day, I’m just walking in my purpose.

Why is it important to work with mayors on gun violence prevention?

Working with mayors on gun violence prevention is important because they can have a direct impact at the local level and use their collective voices to effect change at the national level. Mayors feel the impact of gun violence in real time and can make policy and budget recommendations that can have both immediate and long-term influence on the fight for gun safety.

What does it look like to do the “direct impact” work at Cities United? What’s the programming like?

At Cities United, we support a network of mayors who are committed to working with their communities to develop comprehensive public safety plans that are focused on reducing the homicide rates of young Black men and boys. Our direct impact is the coaching and capacity building that we provide to mayors and their teams through our City Lead Planning Labs, national and regional convenings, webinars, and our resources and guides.

Tell us about some of the young people you’ve worked with, and how Cities United has made a difference for them.

The beauty of working at an organization like Cities United is that we get to work with young men and women from all over the country who are doing some amazing work. The energy, innovation and knowledge they bring into the space blows me away everyday — they always approach the work believing anything is possible. Since our inception, we have had young folks at the table helping to guide our decisions and hold us accountable to our mission.

So I would say that they have affected our work, more so than they have been affected by our work. We provide young leaders with a platform to have their voices heard by leading panels and workshops at our convening, and by representing Cities United on the ground in some of our partner cities.

What does the future of the gun violence prevention movement look like to you?

As we continue the fight, I’m motivated by the promise of the young men and boys whose lives we can save. I’m motivated by the families who have to continue on when a loved one is killed by gun violence. I am excited to see that folks on the frontline in the movement to end gun violence are being lifted up and supported. They are the ones who are making direct impact.

And I’m excited that we now have 121 mayors who have signed on to Cities United and are living out our mission to honor the lives of victims and survivors of gun violence everyday.

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