These Students Grew Up Around Gun Violence. They Decided It Was Time To Talk About It.

The conversation, Hicks says, was a breakthrough after so much silence: “It’s hard to find a light at the end of the tunnel,” she says of her grief. But when she spoke about it with her grandmother, “for a second, it was there. It was something.”

‘D.C. has long struggled with one of the highest rates of gun violence in the country. The district saw 198 homicides in 2020, a 16-year-high, and the 2021 homicide rate is already outpacing 2020.

Harrison, Hicks and Wells wanted their podcast to show that it’s not just about the numbers. Real people are impacted by every life lost to gun violence, so the students talked to three of them: first, Darlene Hazel, Hicks’ grandmother. Then one of Harrison’s friends, Jayla Faust, who lost her stepfather to gun violence.

Thom Woodward stands in front of Duke Ellington School of the Arts located in Washington, D.C. where he teaches. Woodward guided his student Jonetta Harrison, Makiyah Hicks and Quin Wells in creating the first podcast title "Loss and Transformation."
Thom Woodward stands in front of Duke Ellington School of the Arts located in Washington, D.C. where he teaches. Woodward guided his student Jonetta Harrison, Makiyah Hicks and Quin Wells in creating the first podcast title “Loss and Transformation.” (Dee Dwyer for NPR)

Through the podcast, Harrison explains she wanted to give families a chance to speak.

“It’s important for the people who are affected by it to be able to speak because I feel like a lot of times the government is speaking for them,” Harrison says. “These are the people that actually have to go through this.”

The final interview in the podcast is with RuQuan Brown. Now a football player at Harvard University, but in the podcast, he says he didn’t always know if he would make it to college.

“I would walk down Florida Ave on my way back home and I would cry some nights because I was afraid I wouldn’t make it to college because I’d be killed,” he tells Harrison.

His fear of whether he would survive in D.C. is a very real fear among his peers.

Harrison thinks about 18-year-old Richard Bangura often these days as she starts her first semester at Temple University. Bangura was shot and killed in northeast DC last summer, days before he was supposed to move into the same university.

Jonetta Harrison, sits on her computer in her bedroom where she recorded her part for the podcast "Loss And Transformation."
Jonetta Harrison, sits on her computer in her bedroom where she recorded her part for the podcast “Loss And Transformation.” (Dee Dwyer for NPR)

Losing a loved one to gun violence is painful, but Harrison says the podcast is about what community members take away from that pain, too. “You have a loss, but because of this loss, you have transformed to a better person or have a better view of life.”

Brown, for example, dealt with the grief by creating art.

He owns a clothing brand, Love1, which donates to communities affected by gun violence. Brown is currently looking to fund therapy for students in D.C.’s public schools. He has also donated thousands of dollars to the One Gun Gone project, which repurposes guns into artwork to raise awareness about gun violence.

“I created this brand because I wanted to live,” he says.

Harrison, Hicks and Wells are starting college this fall and hope the lessons they learned from the people in their podcast will help them handle loss, and challenges, in their own lives.

Sneha Dey is an intern for NPR’s Education Desk.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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