Standing in the gap (2)

Dear President Trump,

The second HP piece in what I’m calling their “standing in the gap” series, is about a program developed by Dr. Joseph Richardson Jr., at the University of Maryland. It’s designed for young black men who’ve been hospitalized two or more times because of gunshot or stabbing wounds. The idea is to interrupt the cycle of violence by helping them create viable alternatives to the dead end lifestyles that revolve around being targeted and seeking revenge. The program squarely takes on structural causes of violence, such as racial and socioeconomic inequalities by providing the young men with coping strategies to deal with stress and injustice without resorting to self-defeating violence.

The HP piece follows Che Bullock from when he entered Richardson’s program in 2013 to his current role as a caseworker for the program. Bullock recalls how Richardson asked him what he wanted to do with his life and how that brought him up short because no one had ever asked him that question before and he’d always expected to die young or end up in prison for much of his life. Although this probably was a major turning point for Bullock, it seems pretty clear from the article (and commonsense) that this ‘aha’ sort of moment wasn’t enough by itself to reset his course. Richardson was dogged in keeping tabs on Bullock, helping him figure out what he needed, what he’s good at, providing consistent encouragement, support, and accountability. It’s never framed this way in the article, but it seems to me that Richardson essentially re-parented Bullock; he believed in him and helped him learn how to believe in himself.

Obviously this approach is far more hands on than the caring letter intervention I told you about yesterday, but the same core idea underlies them both – people need consistent, caring connections and such connections help keep people from falling through the cracks. Richardson talks about how his program inoculates young men from violence by giving them solid reasons to live. Basically the program is helping to safeguard them from despair and the “who gives a f*ck” defense that previously put them at risk. It’s hard, messy, emotionally fraught, painstaking, necessary, and noble work.

May we all feel safe and secure with solid connections.
May we all be happy to connect in ways that work for us.
May we have the support we need to be healthy and emotionally strong.
May we dig in and do the hard, messy work of peace-making.

Sincerely,
Tracy Simpson

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