In September of 2009, high school star swimmer Ondelee Perteet was attending a party with his friends in Chicago. A rather typical social activity for Ondelee and his friends, all seemed fine at the party until a disagreement erupted between Perteet and a 15-year-old boy named Robert Sansberry. After the encounter, Sansberry was asked to leave. He later returned — this time, with a gun. Sansberry opened fire on the crowd. A bullet struck Ondelee’s chin. The bullet severed his spinal cord, rendering him quadriplegic. He would never swim again. He would never walk again. In an instant, Ondelee’s life was changed forever. He was only 14.
President Obama’s executive actions announced earlier this year regarding gun violence and creating “common-sense” gun laws are a step forward in the right direction. But as young leaders, we, the Regional Organizers of the Generation Progress Gun Violence Prevention Network, are concerned that the executive actions do not go far enough to help the very people who are impacted the most by gun violence: communities of color. In order to truly produce positive change, we must address the lack of opportunities in these communities that persist due to systemic oppression.
When speaking of her son’s peers, Ondelee Pertreet’s mother, Deetreena, said, “If they were not in jail they would be dead.” Deetreena describes this survival of the fittest model as the “the nature of the beast” that resides in our urban communities. She is all too familiar with the impact of gun violence. Both her son and sister suffered from gunshots in two unrelated incidents. She has seen what gun violence is doing to the communities in Chicago, and sees the problem as only getting worse.
We recognize that communities nationwide are experiencing similar incidents at an alarming rate. Furthermore, we firmly believe that solutions for preventing and eliminating high rates of similar incidents must provide ways to decrease the gun violence occurring daily in urban and low-income communities.
Stories like the Perteet’s are far too common, and as gun violence prevention advocates, we grapple with this every day. Stories like theirs, layered on top of the fact that African Americans account for only 13 percent of the population, yet account for 55 percent of shooting homicide victims further indicate how much work is left to be done. These alarming statistics show that the suggestions being proposed federally and locally need to provide relief for marginalized communities — communities that are too often left out of the discourse of the mainstream media.
Due to the lack of economic opportunity and educational resources, a clear pattern of inequality in communities of color continues to exist. This pattern contributes to a system of violence in urban communities and must be addressed at all levels of government.
One step towards addressing violence and allowing residents of low-income and under-resourced communities to create a sustainable life for themselves is increasing job opportunities. The lack of job opportunities for people of color creates a lack of hope, which in turn undoubtedly contributes to community violence. One aspect of job accessibility can be addressed by “banning the box” nationally. People of color are disproportionately incarcerated. If employers were to remove the check box on job applications that inquires about a criminal record, such a change would inevitably help drive economic mobility within our communities, as it would increase the percentage of residents who could gain employment.
Providing adequate education funding to urban neighborhoods is essential to assist communities nationwide as well. Receiving a quality education positions students to have more opportunities available when the time comes to seek employment and/or pursue higher education. Additional financial resources are also needed for adequate staffing; many of the schools located in communities impacted by gun violence often lack guidance counselors and nurses — members integral to a quality education and healthy academic atmosphere.
Furthermore, increased funding would allow for additional extracurricular activities and opportunities in schools and community centers. The hours immediately after school are when young people are most likely to be involved in high-risk situations, and in many cases, extracurricular activities provide healthy pastimes for students, often diverting them away from those more risky situations.
Finally, we should incorporate trauma-informed education across the country. We want there to be acknowledgment of the severe trauma many students are living with and how their experiences impact their learning styles and behaviors in the classroom. Ultimately, these resources will lead to a decrease in community violence while increasing socioeconomic mobility in our communities.
At Generation Progress, we see President Obama’s stance on gun violence prevention as a sign that progress is being made. However, it is only the first step. It is essential for the government and all other stakeholders to not lose sight of the impact gun violence has on urban communities nationwide. We cannot forget the traumas faced by families like the Perteets. There is a tremendous amount of work remaining, and we know that accomplishing our goals will not occur overnight. But we’re up for the challenge.
This article originally appeared on Medium.