Violence is a public health problem.
At least that’s how Brooklyn, N.Y.-based emergency physician and community activist Dr. Robert Gore views it.
“You look at public health problems as problems having these identifiable risk factors, and if you can intervene, then you can change the outcome,” Gore, a clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at SUNY Downstate Medical Center and NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County, tells The Root.
“Why can’t we do the same thing with violence?” he says.
Gore knows he isn’t the first person to classify violence in communities as a public health issue. However, years of research and working in emergency departments in Chicago and New York have armed him with the knowledge and the experience to combat the issue differently.
“Working in the trauma center at Cook County Hospital [in Chicago], I had seen young men of color coming in—I wouldn’t say just injured, almost massacred—with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and to the abdomen and pelvis, stab wounds to the head; people beaten up with batons and sticks and any other object that you can possibly imagine,” Gore said.
“[I was] also looking at them like, ‘Wow, they look just like my relatives; they look just like me.’ And I’m wondering, had their circumstances been different, or if my circumstances would have been different, would they be the physicians and I be the patient? I kept on questioning that.”
It was this thinking that prompted Gore to found the Kings Against Violence Initiative in 2011. The program is meant to provide safe alternatives for youths at risk for engaging in interpersonal violence.
“Everybody’s looking at what happens when people get shot,” Gore said. “I think a less-morbid thing and something a lot more encouraging is how do you prevent … people from coming to the emergency department in the first place?”
The son of a retired teacher and a community activist, Gore grew up thinking about community development and has long mentored and worked with young people since being a kid himself in high school.
It was only when he started medical school, however, that his passion for tackling violence truly developed. Gore did his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, the city where his family is from, and that is when things began to click into place rapidly.
“You start looking at young men and young women who are coming in injured as a result of violence and conflict that could have possibly been avoided, or at least not gotten physical, and you go, ‘What else is there? Is all I’m going to be doing is patch people up?’ Which is needed … but it’s not just about just staying alive; it’s how do you actually become productive, how do you contribute, how do you do something with that life?” Gore added.
KAVI’s school program works with four schools in New York right now, including three of the schools in the Wingate High School Campus and the Eagle Academy in Brooklyn’s Brownsville neighborhood during school hours. The workshop curriculum that the program works on with students includes mediation, conflict resolution, skill development, idea development and even the arts.
The organization also has a community program that works with junior high schools in the area after school, as well as a hospital program based in Kings County Hospital, where the group does intervention work with youths who are coming in with violent trauma.
“We’re there almost as guides to help facilitate in really looking at providing services to young people that are in need,” Gore said. “Most people don’t just have that one teacher that believed in them or told them everything they need to know. They had multiple people that were involved in that process.”
KAVI is there to act as that support group and give young people the outlet they need and deserve.
“We want to make sure that our environment is supportive; we want to make sure we are a resource, not only for them, but also their friends,” the doctor added.
And the idea is to hopefully pass on the knowledge so that this particular cycle, one of nonviolence and support, can continue.
“What we’re looking at right now is helping train the next set of agents. If I’m doing the same thing over and over again for the rest of my life and I haven’t been in a position to pass the torch on, obviously I’ve failed,” Gore said.
“So the goal for any kind of teacher or professor is to become obsolete. … We hope that they can run these workshops. It’d be a dream that one day former participants in our program are the ones who are actually running the program.”
Breanna Edwards is a newswriter at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.