The first time gun violence touched my life, I was only two years old. It was 1971 and my uncle was shot and killed by his domestic partner. He was my mom’s baby brother and one of the oldest boys of her siblings, so many in our family looked to him for protection and leadership. After his death, my mother stepped up and took on this role for the family. She was a natural-born leader, so the role fit her perfectly.
Seventeen years later, gun violence devastated my life once again. At that time, my mom had left her job as a teacher to become a law enforcement officer. She and my younger sister were living with my mom’s boyfriend; I was 18 years old by then and living on my own.
One night, I received a frantic phone call from my sister telling me that my mom and her boyfriend were having a dispute and she was scared. I immediately took off for their house to intervene. As I arrived, my mother’s boyfriend was attempting to flee in her car but I chased him down and took him back to their house. When I pulled up, there were police cars and an ambulance – that’s when I learned the horrifying truth: my mother’s boyfriend had shot her in the face and killed her instantly.
He was arrested on site and charged with “the death of another in the heat of passion.” He was found guilty but served only eight years.
The death of my mother affected me and my sister in profound ways. My sister was 16 when our mother died; I was 18. Since then, we’ve both gone through bouts of frustration, disappointment and depression. It took us many years for the two of us to be able to talk about it. Sometimes I believe my sister blames me for not being there. Sometimes I blame myself. It’s heartbreaking that my mother was not able to see my sister graduate from high school, or see her get married, or meet any of her grandchildren.
Eventually, I followed in my mother’s footsteps and became a law enforcement officer. Whenever I would respond to incidents of domestic violence, I would verbally lash out at the perpetrators, which was out of character for me. I know the anger stemmed from my own devastating experiences with domestic violence.
Less than 10 years after my mother’s death, gun violence devastated our family yet again. While eating dinner at a friend’s house, my aunt Regina was struck by a stray bullet that traveled from outside the home through the wall, killing her.
Then, a few years later, Regina’s son was shot and killed—his body dumped on the side of a road like a piece of trash. Neither my aunt’s nor my cousin’s killers were ever found.
In May 2016, my aunt Birdell became the unintended target of senseless gun violence. Gunfire erupted outside my aunt’s vehicle while she was sitting at a stop sign with her granddaughter. A bullet traveled through her arm and pierced her heart, killing her.
I left law enforcement to become a Dean of Students– the opposite career path that my mom took. I started a nonprofit organization called Face2Face to address the issues facing today’s inner-city communities and abroad. I have always had a passion for helping others and to stand up for the little guy or the underdog and I feel like I’m doing that through Face2Face.
Since my aunt Birdell’s death, my cousin and I have also become involved with our state’s Moms Demand Action chapter and Everytown’s Survivor Network. We speak regularly on the topic of gun violence and try to help in any way we can.
I want people in all communities that are impacted by gun violence to know they are not alone. This is an epidemic that is crushing individuals and communities across the country and we must come together to offer solutions.
To anyone who has been personally affected by gun violence, please do not be afraid to reach out for help. Mental health resources are available and there is no shame in taking advantage of these resources.
Finally, I encourage community members to be proactive and get involved. Whether it’s speaking with the media to bring awareness to the problem, or working with law enforcement, churches and other community organizations, there are many ways to address gun violence in our communities. Let’s take back our communities from the deadly grip of gun violence.
This piece is by Anthijuan Beeks, Sr., a Minnesota member of the Everytown Survivor Network and Survivor Network Fellow. If you have been personally affected by gun violence and would like to share your story with Moms Demand Action, please email [email protected]