Liza Chowdhury: I want to see the community improve and the youth have better opportunities
Liza Chowdhury 2.12.2021
Black History Month
This Black History Month, we recognize the importance of Black leadership, advocacy, and resilience in the gun violence prevention movement. Throughout February, we’ll be highlighting the important work of Black Americans who are on the front lines of fighting the gun violence crisis in their communities.
All of us at Paterson Healing Collective in Paterson, NJ are from communities that have had high rates of violence and have lost someone we care about due to violence. As project director at the organization, I want to see the community improve and the youth have a better opportunity than we did. All of us are tired of the status quo, and we decided to unite to help bring resources to communities impacted by violence.
We support survivors of gun violence by completing an intake assessment to understand their goals and needs, and to provide them with support and mentorship. We also intervene when there is a crisis. Every day, community members who have been impacted by violence come to see staff to talk, learn, build, and plan their lives with. It is amazing to see young men and women take an active role in their healing and see my team be so loving and supporting towards them.
Among those working tirelessly to provide support to those most impacted by gun violence is Teddie Martinez, the hospital-based violence intervention coordinator at Paterson Healing Collective. Teddie himself has been shot 11 times and has done about 15 years in federal prison. He vowed that when he was released, he would dedicate his life to not perpetuate or condone the violence he lived by as a younger man. He knew he was a leader and people listened to him.
In his role at Paterson Healing Collective, Teddie arrives at the bedside of recent gun violence victims at the hospital and provides them with comfort, mentorship, and services. Teddie often talks about the hopelessness he sees or hears in the voices of the young people that are growing up in the neighborhoods he grew up in. He sometimes spends hours on the phone with participants who have been paralyzed by gun violence, have recently lost someone, or are currently in jail pending cases, just so they can have an outlet. He often talks about the disinvestment in the community and corruption that allows the continued violence.
“Our generation has the responsibility to correct the wrongs we created and assist our younger generation to be better than us,” Teddie says. “Our past may try to dictate who we are… but we control who we become. We are the masters of our own destiny, and we find strength in healing.”
We have been educating the community about healing and mental health when we do our community outings. In our office, we have several support groups and have partnered with other organizations that promote trauma-informed mental health and healing approaches in the Black community. One of our main goals is to ensure that the hospital and greater community changes their narrative around victims of gun violence so that they are not further criminalized and labeled as gang members.
Knowing that we have already impacted the lives of over 70 people in some way for the better in just three months is the best feeling. To see someone you may have had the honor of mentoring make good decisions and succeed in life is all the reward you need.
Keep engaging and building trust with the communities most impacted by the trauma of gun violence. Ask them what they need and utilize your network and social capital to magnify their voices.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using four years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2021.