Julvonnia McDowell didn’t know what to expect when she walked into her first Everytown Survivor Network meeting. She was afraid that the pain she carried from losing her 14-year-old son JaJuan would make her stick out.
She could not have been more wrong.
“I am forever grateful that I attended because meeting other survivors that could relate was just what I needed,” she said. “To hear other survivors talk about their loved ones and share their stories, I gained strength in that moment.”
That initial meeting came shortly after JaJuan’s death in April 2016. Another teen fatally shot him while playing with an unsecured gun. Connecting with other survivors sparked a passion within Julvonnia to get involved in the movement against gun violence. Now, she’s inspiring others as a passionate Survivor Membership Lead with Moms Demand Action and a Senior Fellow with Everytown Survivor Network.
As a leader in the survivor community, Julvonnia speaks with survivors and encourages a robust foundation of strength. She also serves as a mentor to other survivors by offering, as she puts it, “a h(ear)t when necessary and a shoulder to lean on.”
Julvonnia found it gratifying to work alongside other Moms Demand Action volunteers to create a plan to help Gun Sense Candidates in Savannah and across Georgia during the 2020 election cycle, even though the pandemic made things more complicated.
“Creativity was our best friend, especially canvassing while practicing social distancing, phone banking, writing op-eds, being a part of a letter written to Ahmaud Arbery’s mom, and sending thank-you postcards,” she said. “The ink drying out in the pens and finger cramps was worth it to remain in contact with our current Gun Sense Candidates and voters.”
Julvonnia is proud of the work that went into getting extreme risk and background check laws passed in several states, and the fight for safer communities continues.
In 2021, she hopes to help change the culture around gun violence, especially the feeling that “it’s not my problem.” She wants to introduce Moms Demand Action to communities that don’t yet have a presence in the fight against gun violence. She’s also eager to learn from other chapters about how to reach more people and grow the movement.
Overall, she’s hopeful for the future, and that’s due in large part to the election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris and a host of senators who’ve demonstrated a strong commitment to gun safety.
“I remember waking up and feeling like the grief I have slept with for years was finally lifting,” Julvonnia said of the 2020 election. “I remain hopeful at this stage and I now have a feeling of resilience.”
Her faith, her family, and her newfound family of survivors keep her pressing forward, giving her the strength to be there for others. She tells other survivors not to give up and to resist those overwhelming feelings of hopelessness.
“In that moment, open your mouth and declare yourself victorious. I can! I will! I shall!” Julvonnia said. “Remember the two B’s, to break and to breathe. Take mental breaks and breathe through those heart palpitations. When grief floods your thoughts, remember to decree, ‘I am an overcomer.’”