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Brooklyn Doctor Starts Organization to Help Youth Find Alternatives to Violence

As an attending emergency room physician at Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, Dr. Robert Gore was accustom to being awoken by late night phone calls. But one middle of the night phone call shook him to the core. He was told that a young man, Willis Young, 27, that he worked with as a peer violence interruptor was in the hospital, suffering from a critical stab wound. Mr. Young had gotten into a confrontation with a close friend and was left wounded on a Brooklyn street. Dr. Gore had enlisted the help of Mr. Young and others to calm retaliatory acts, when people were brought to the ER suffering injuries from being shot, stabbed or beaten. Now it was Willis Young who was being treated by Dr. Gore but unfortunately he did not survive.

Remembering that grim phone call, Dr. Gore was reminded of what he felt was his duty as a young, Black physician and that was to find alternatives to the violence that’s plaguing his community. After Mr. Young’s death, Dr. Gore worked even harder with his mentoring group, Kings Against Violence Initiative. His group mentors approximately 100 teenagers in the Brooklyn area. After Willis Young’s death, Dr. Gore said “when he was stabbed, everything became more real about what we were doing. It personalized what we were doing. All I know is we have somebody doing violence intervention and all of a sudden he is not here. This was avoidable. It’s not a freak car accident. This is somebody who died at the hands of violence.”

Dr. Gore understands the chronic violence issue first-hand because he has lived in the Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant areas in Brooklyn, NY. As the son of a schoolteacher and activist, he felt that it was his responsibility to not only acknowledge the issues of the community but to also work to find a solution. His awakening came, while doing his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, when another resident physician said he hoped that “something exciting” would happen while on the overnight shift. When Dr. Gore looked around the emergency room, he said “it was me, a nurse and a clerk who were the only people of color. That’s when you start looking at the problem from a different point of view because they look like me or one of my relatives. I started thinking, ‘What can I do to help this?’

The idea of finding a way to make an impact occurred in 2011, when Dr. Gore and some like-minded friends and professionals started what would become the Kings Against Violence Initiative. The mentorship program began at the George W. Wingate High School in Brooklyn, where the medical professionals volunteered to help students who were considered at risk or otherwise in need of guidance. The goal of the program is to help young people find alternatives to violence. Even though conflict isn’t always avoidable, there’s always a resolution that does not have to lead to violence. One of the participants in the mentoring program, Jude Bonney said “before, if I got into problems, I had more of a violent way to handle it. Here I learned how that can be prevented in the first place, by being aware of my surroundings.

The work Dr. Gore has done, is being replicated by NYC’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, at Harlem Hospital Center in Manhattan and Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. These programs realize that law enforcement alone cannot eliminate violence among young people and that a preventive public health approach is needed. “If violence is a disease, you need a vaccination,” Erik Cliette, who directs the corporation’s Guns Down, Life Up initiative, said. “If you address violence the way we addressed smoking, the whole concept of how we look at violence will change.” Putting words into action, Dr. Gore said “I can’t point fingers at who is responsible for doing what. This is my neighborhood, my hospital and I can’t expect others to take care of it if I’m not involved.”

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