The Mercury News Weekend

Gun violence has haunted my family, and we're not alone

- By Jamila Land Jamila Land is a fellow with the Everytown Survivor Network and a volunteer with Moms Demand Action in California.

Last week, people across the nation once again woke up to headlines of heartbreak­ing gun violence, but for me, they hit much closer to home. In less than a week, those living in California experience­d horrific shootings in Monterey Park, Half Moon Bay and Oakland. Unfortunat­ely, for the Black community in Northern California, stories of gun violence are all too familiar.

Growing up in Oakland, loved ones close to my heart were stolen from me due to easy access to firearms. To date, I have lost my daughter-in-law Ashlee Walker, my nephews Kionta Murphy Jr., Natio Jackson and Najon Jackson and my niece Ellesse McFadden, in addition to close family friends, Dewayne James Jr., Sa'Quan Reed, and Thomas “TJ” Wellman.

I still remember receiving the phone call that Na'Vaun, my 4-year-old grandnephe­w, had shot himself in the head with a gun left unsecured by his mother's boyfriend. Na'Vaun's father, Nathan, has never met his son because he's serving a sentence for assault charges with a firearm. But the system never gave Nathan a chance, his two brothers were shot and killed in 2010 and 2011 respective­ly, and in 2018, a gunman murdered his sister in Oakland.

I know that the scale of gun violence in this country can be overwhelmi­ng. Still, we must remember that behind every incident of gun violence and statistic are stories of parents who never got to kiss their kids goodbye, gunshot victims living with physical and emotional wounds, entire families heartbroke­n by gun suicide or witnesses of gun crimes living with trauma — people like me. While Na'Vaun physically recovered from his wounds, he'll always carry the trauma from gun violence with him, and we are standing right behind him. This trauma is compounded by the structural racism we face daily for being Black and the generation­al trauma that passes from one generation to the next. From the outside, it's easy to judge people like Nathan or myself, but for folks like us, gun violence has tormented us all our lives. Yet, our story is not isolated, as it's estimated that 71% of Black adults in this country are survivors of gun violence. I share my story to let my fellow survivors know they are not alone and that there is a way forward.

For the last decade, my husband and I have sought to turn our pain and grief into action. My husband, a former inmate, has dedicated his life to breaking the stigma around reintegrat­ion into society. At the same time, my work with Moms Demand Action has given me the platform to demand more than just “thoughts and prayers” from our policymake­rs because, as survivors, we deserve a seat at the table and want to be part of the solution when it comes to ending our country's gun violence crisis.

This month we are celebratin­g both Black History Month and National Gun Violence

Survivors Week — where we have an opportunit­y to shine a light on survivors like Nathan and myself. We must honor the history of our beautiful and vibrant community while recognizin­g the systemic inequaliti­es and violence we've endured in this country for centuries.

I hope my family's story helps open the door for a deeper discussion on the root causes and pain of gun violence in California and across the country, as well as the urgent need for action to address it. We cannot continue losing our loved ones to gun violence. I encourage you to join me in fighting for the change we want to see.

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