I’ve been thinking about violence and safety my whole life.
My first memories of violence are as a young girl in Libya where my Indian family lived temporarily. With Colonel Gaddafi as the country’s leader at the time, blatant shows of strength were made by gun toting soldiers around every corner. I remember feeling anxious and insecure when I’d see these soldiers in the marketplace.
When we moved back to India, I spent time in a household so expectant of violence, that guns were strapped on by my uncles as a normal part of their daily routine. They were involved in politics and, ostensibly, there were people against whom we needed to be extra vigilant. Sometimes, after school, our rickshaw bus would peddle blocks out of the way to avoid Hindu Muslim riots that bloomed with increased frequency and threatened the safety of everyone around them.
As I grew older, a uniformed security officer was required to accompany me on my shopping trips with sisters and cousins since now, as a US foreign national, I could be the target of kidnapping.
It won’t be a surprise to you that despite the perceived protections around me, I never quite felt safe.
Later in life, during my graduate work at Berkeley I lived at the epicenter of two neighboring Oakland zip codes with very different levels of violence—in one direction, I’d walk in relative safety but in the other I feared violence with every step. The disparity was surprising to me and made me wonder what it would really take to build safety in any neighborhood. What bred violence down the street but prevented it around the corner in the other direction?
I searched for answers until later in life when I was introduced to Cure Violence at a conference in bucolic Camden, Maine. I had just finished a stint helping grow the photo-community site Flickr, and I knew first hand what a difference a few influencers could make in the spread of an idea—even an idea like nonviolence.
The Cure Violence model, which hinges on real world community leaders interrupting violence but also driving a change in thinking in their neighborhoods, not only seemed like a smart idea, it seemed like the only one that could work. I began to volunteer immediately as an advisor to Cure Violence, and some time later, gratefully accepted a role to co-lead our International Advisory Board.
Since that introduction several years ago, the power and the promise of Cure Violence has only grown. We have been shown to statistically & significantly reduce violence in every community we work in. We’ve been able to turn the tide of violence in communities as diverse as Brooklyn, New York, Kansas City, Missouri, Basra, Iraq, and Cape Town, South Africa.
Though we have come so far, there is still so much to do. Our work isn’t just about stopping the shootings, it’s about changing a mindset—in your backyard, in my backyard and in backyards across the world. We want to create a world where violence is simply not a course of action.
We can change these norms. We must do this work. And if we do, perhaps then, we can finally make the world feel safe for ourselves and our children—no matter the zip code they sleep in or the country they call home.