Between holiday gatherings with friends and family and the anticipation of a brighter year ahead, December is an exciting time of year. But this December represents an important punctuation mark on the last 12 months for everyone here at GOSO. We’ve been helping program participants navigate the ups and downs, with many of the “downs” exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Our program participants continue to face housing insecurity, mental health challenges, and the effects of a surge in gun violence. At GOSO, we like to say, “We’ve done it before, and we will do it again!” But we also have to be honest that we can’t do it alone.
If there was one lesson from 2021 that we carry with us today, it would be that community matters. Your donations and ongoing support are more important than ever to improving the lives of program participants – and making the everyday work we do possible. In this season of giving, we invite you to support GOSO so that our program participants can overcome the obstacles and build promising futures.
SAVE East Harlem fights gun violence
The month of November saw the largest number of year-to-date gun arrests in New York City since 1995. Did you know that Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to die as a result of gun violence? Black people are also 14 times more likely than white people to be wounded by guns.
But what doesn’t make it to the headlines is the work taking place on the ground, particularly by GOSO’s partner organization, SAVE East Harlem, led by Omar Jackson and his team of violence interrupters. Thankfully, investigative journalist Chip Brownlee wrote an important piece, There Are Only Two City-Funded Violence Prevention Sites Tackling Surging Violence in Upper Manhattan, in The Trace, that shines a light on their life-saving work.
“SAVE Harlem is run by people with an intimate knowledge of the place they’re trying to help, and a life-or-death interest in preventing violence there. It’s their neighborhood. SAVE’s model, which enlists community members affected by violence to help keep their peers safe — often without involving law enforcement — has gained popularity as one practical method to ease America’s gun violence crisis.”
What’s so radical about SAVE East Harlem is that it follows the Cure Violence model, which treats violence for what it is – a disease. This means Omar and his team adopt a three-step approach with respect to addressing violence: detect, interrupt, and change community norms.
Keeping the conversations alive
This past year, we have also been working hard to address the systemic issues facing our criminal justice system. Helping individuals is important. But we risk missing the forest for the trees if we fail to speak up about the larger, systemic issues that our participants face. For instance, our Invest Panel was a necessary and pragmatic conversation about the criminalization of mental health challenges, the disproportionate impact on people of color, and the need to invest in social services rather than policing.
Further, GOSO and other criminal justice and reentry organizations in New York City brought together NYC mayoral candidates to discuss their positions on everything from reentry and policing in schools to barriers to affordable housing and mental health. The purpose of the event was to understand the candidates’ positions on crucial criminal justice policy issues and their proposed solutions.
Our Justice Transformers article series helped to showcase how everyone can support GOSO’s mission, bringing their individual gifts to our organization. We’ve featured individuals such as Kwame Fynn, a long-time volunteer at GOSO and a founding member of our Action Board.; Sean Nuttall, a Supervising Attorney at the Office of the Appellate Defender in New York, and a GOSO Action Board member; and Sara VanWiechen, who is a vital part of the team at Great Performances NYC, a catering and events company with a socially responsible focus.
Come as you are
GOSO’s expanded community has also been invaluable in 2021. Our Program Associate, Shambaleed Nayyer, is studying criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice and created a clinical resource guide containing a comprehensive list of substance treatment services, mental health services, and housing services for family members of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Meanwhile, on Giving Tuesday, the team from Artolution brought their artistic talents to the halls of GOSO’s headquarters and painted a spectacular mural. Their mission is to deliver art programming to youth in refugee camps and vulnerable communities around the world – and this mural, which was featured on NBC, reminds us about the obligation we all have to uplifting children in our communities.
Close out 2021 knowing that you made a difference!
There is so much to be grateful for as we wind down 2021, and usher in 2022. The tumult of the past year stands as a stark reminder of the importance of health, community, and making the most out of each day. And as you count your blessings, we hope that you also remember our program participants – who are appreciative beyond words of your ongoing support. Remember: We’ve done it before, and we will do it again, but only with your continued generosity and encouragement.