A Message from the VIP Director by Dr. Chinwe Okeke, MD, MHA
They understood the assignment: three street outreach workers responded to another incident that ended the life, far too soon, of a beloved Selma citizen. It was March 2023 when Prince Bates, Christy Harris, and Larry Johnson, answered the call, as they had previously done many times. As high-risk violence intervention specialists, Bates, Harris, and Johnson addressed a multifaceted challenge that plagues so many communities: gun violence. When I joined the Violence Intervention Program (VIP) at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation (SCNTR) in April 2023 as the Director of the program, my goal was to elevate gun violence as a public health crisis. After taking a page from the playbooks of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Public Health Association (APHA), I re-imagined our role in the critical conversation to quell gun violence. That is, I began looking at violence from a disease model. Like many diseases, those transmitting the illness and those most likely to suffer from the illness, can be identified. By applying a public health approach to violence, the VIP team launched into community-centric activities to re-introduce us as credible messengers.
In this walk alongside community members, the VIP team steered clear of the doom and gloom headlines (every day, over 300 people are shot with 40,000 killed annually). Rather, the VIP team worked to transform the narrative from Selma being an increasingly violent city to Selma being an increasingly aware city. Thus, VIP team members respond to violent crimes to support victims, but also collaborate with community stakeholders, well-steeped, with strategies to innovatively reduce and prevent gun violence. Through these partnerships, the VIP Team engages those most likely to be shot and those most likely to shoot.
The VIP and the Community
Community engagement is a major part of the work of the VIP team. To make sure that Street Outreach Workers have the ability to maintain strong relationships with residents, since April 2023, some of the events the VIP team members have participated in are as follows:
Freeze Out Violence campaign at Edgewood Elementary School, Clark Elementary School – May 2023
Stop the Tornado of Violence Town Hall meeting at Tipton Middle School - April 2023
Stop the Violence community event in Ward 7– April 2023
R.B. Hudson – 'Have a Hot Dog and a nonviolence principle' Day – May 2023
Stop the Violence rally at the Song of Selma sponsored by the local chapter of the NAACP – June 2023
Freeze Out Violence - Selma Square Apartments – June 2023
Juneteenth Anti-violence Rally at WBFZ radio station - June 2023
Freeze Out Violence - Valley Creek Apartments – July 2023
VIP Community Stakeholders’ Meeting – July 2023
School Success Summit and Fun Day – August 2023
National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims- September 2023
National Day of Nonviolence - October 2, 2023
To learn more about upcoming events make sure to check the SCNTR’s Upcoming Events section on the website and social media. F
Growing the Team
Although the VIP team has a renewed enthusiasm to engage in this purpose-filled work, we recognize that successes, without building capacity, are not easily maintained in community violence intervention.
With lessons learned, and a desire to increase the impact of VIP's reach, we welcomed several new team members from June 2023 to July 2023. Shawna Goldsby, our Victims Services Advocate was one of them.
Goldsby, whose family has suffered seemingly insurmountable losses to violence, fights to touch hearts by walking alongside victims. Part of Goldby's mission in her new role will focus on the support of victims and victims' families. Goldsby created the "Just Because'' Initiative which is designed to share in the healing process of victims’ families. With personalized balloons that echo the memory of loved ones lost to gun violence, victims' families will participate in a balloon release at the SCNTR (amidst the backdrop of the breathtaking view of the Alabama River). In addition, Goldsby will co-facilitate grief groups at the SCNTR located at 8 Mulberry Road, Selma, AL, 36703.
Grief groups will address the whole person: mind, body, and spirit.
The Grief support group meets on the second Thursday of each month at 5 p.m. The upcoming dates for the support groups are as follows:
October 10th – 5 pm CST
November 14 – 5 pm CST
December 12 – 5 pm CST
As the VIP Team continues to face the challenge of eradicating gun violence, we are centering community in this work. The VIP team looks for guidance from the community it serves, the true experts on what is best for their neighborhoods. At the SCNTR we view violence as a disease. However, just as diseases can spread, the VIP team members also know that good can spread just as feverishly.
Dr. Chinwe Okeke, MD, MHA
Dr. Chinwe O. Okeke is the Director of the Violence Intervention Program at the Selma Center for Nonviolence, Truth, and Reconciliation. Dr. Okeke has worked with community engagement with a health focus for the past five years in various capacities ranging from wellness navigation and health administration curriculum building to community health worker training.