DC community leaders, professional athletes seek collaborative solutions to city’s gun violence

Community leaders joined residents concerned about violent crime and several of D.C.’s professional basketball players at a town hall meeting Monday to seek collaborative solutions to dealing with gun violence, which claimed the lives of 17 people just in July.

The town hall meeting at R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Southeast represented the first of what organizers promise will be other collaborative efforts as they seek to address the root of violent crime in the District, and continue dismantling any barriers to victim support that may exist for city residents impacted by violent crime.

Monday’s town hall was the first event in D.C. held by the partnership between the Alliance for Safety and Justice and the NBA Social Justice Coalition, according to Aswad Thomas, vice president of the Alliance and national director of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice.

Thomas said they’ll be holding similar “solution-based conversations” nationwide.

A gun violence survivor and a former basketball player, Thomas was headed to Europe to play pro ball, but was shot in the back by two men during an attempted robbery, ending his career just three weeks prior to his departure.

The Alliance works with people on both sides of gun violence — survivors as well as those with past conviction records.

The town hall highlighted a number of concerns from community members, as well as support for victims of violent crimes. The crowd heard everything from tear-filled recollections from mothers who have lost children to gun violence to remarks on how communities can find pathways to healing, including mental health resources to work through the trauma inflicted by violence.

Warees Majeed, co-founder of the organization Yay Me!—said the violence is just a symptom of another issue.

“Gun violence is just destroying something that you don’t value,” Majeed said. “And I believe that if we value our sisters, we value our brothers, even our community, it’s hard to destroy what you value.”

Majeed identified collaboration as “the most important thing that we can do.”

A panel including the Mystics’ Natasha Cloud and the Wizards’ Monte Morris discuss collaborative solutions to D.C.’s gun violence. (WTOP/Liz Anderson)

“When you have individuals with the Mystics and the Wizards, and you have all these other private industries, and you have government sitting down at one table, saying that this problem is impacting us all? That’s how you find the solutions to these issues,” Majeed said.

“And we start to establish that value, we start to look at some of these systems that we know are broken, that we know, there’s so many other things that can happen to make these systems more impactful for our young people, for our communities, period. So that’s what we are doing. That’s what we’re going to continue doing. And it’s just great to have other partners at the table with other resources.”

Community leaders in attendance included Ward 8 Councilmember Trayon White.

“As a council member of this community, I know we have a huge task ahead, but we got to keep chipping away at it,” White told WTOP.  “In fact, when I leave here today, I have to go see a mom who lost her son to gun violence a few days ago. So the struggle continues.”

Three professional basketball players were also present to voice a commitment to using their platforms to help provide awareness and work toward solutions.

“This is a problem that a large group of our community is going through,” said the Washington Wizards’ Anthony Gill, who said he grew up in a small North Carolina city with a high crime rate.

Gun violence “can’t be one of those things that we just push to the side because we don’t see it directly every single day, because there are people’s lives that are being affected by it,” Gill said.

Washington Mystics’ Natasha Cloud expressed hopefulness after seeing Monday night’s turnout.

“It’s been really scary over the last few years—the trajectory of the violence and especially surrounding our guns in this community,” Cloud said. “So, tonight was powerful for me to see the amount of people that were in that room that care that want to be a part of the solution.”

But Cloud said there’s room for other professional sports teams, too.

“I love this community and we want to be a part of the solution. Not only myself but the Mystics, the Wizards and all of Monumental [Sports]. I’ve said it in the past, and I’m not afraid to say it again,” Cloud said. “It’s not only on us and the Wizards. It’s also on the Nationals and the Capitals to step up as well.”

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