One hot summer day in South Jamaica Queens, New York, a young man was shot and left for dead. His body lay in the street for hours. His mother's screams were like nothing I'd ever heard before. Young men stood at the scene plotting to retaliate as the pain had taken them over; it was there that I began my work -- behind the chalk line.
To many, it was just another crime, but for me it was the turning point of my life, as I could no longer stand by and see another child die to senseless violence. Having lived in South Jamaica Queens for over twenty years, I've seen far too many families unable to heal from grief over the murders of their innocent children, young people who do not understand how to resolve conflict without turning to violence, and the ripple effect both issues have on every level. As a child who lost her father to the Vietnam War, I know all too well the pain that accompanies the loss of a loved one, and the impact it can have on the mind, body and spirit if therapeutic services are not provided;
My name is Erica Ford, and for the past ten years, my life has been dedicated to violence prevention and intervention in New York City. In 2002, I founded LIFE Camp, Inc, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to develop youth into peer leaders, while providing a therapeutic program approach to violence intervention and prevention. I currently sit on a City Council gun violence task force convened last year to address violence, the NYPD Commissioner's advisory committee on gun violence and this year I am heading a pilot program in southeast Queens -- the I Love My LIFE VIP Pilot -- to change the norm of how people relate and respond to violence.
Our Violence Intervention and Prevention (VIP) team is on the front lines every day trying to stop hurt people from hurting people— we do our “Peace” in Interrupting Violence! Through this work, we see first hand that violence is a Public Health Crisis that must be addressed like any other disease that impacts our country. Through the generous support of partners, supporters and volunteers, we provide therapeutic services like yoga / meditation / physical fitness and wellness coaching in schools and communities located in "hot zones" with the highest incidents of gun violence, and we are seeing positive results. These services are provided for parents who've lost their children to violence, youth in schools within the target hot zone areas, and services providers who are first responders to incidents of violence.
Through this work, I have learned that violence is not inherited, it is not genetic, it is not our natural state—it is a matter of conditioning, and with the right support systems, this negative conditioning can be reversed. “Everyday” people are walking around mentally, emotionally, socially or economically deficient or diseased… Children are killing children… this is a wake-up call for the heart of America. We cannot be rich in material wealth and poor in spirit. We must re-define the parameters of mental and emotional health so that we can prevent everyday people throughout our country from becoming perpetrators or victims of violence.
Public Health Advocate/Program Manager - South Jamaica Cure Violence