Earlier this week, there was a shooting down the street from our headquarters on 8th Avenue. The details are murky, but press reports suggest that the incident, which left one dead and two injured, was drug-related and that everyone involved had a history of addiction and involvement in the criminal justice system.
I have been thinking about this shooting a lot – and not just because I walk past the site of the violence every morning on my way to work.
A few days ago, I took a couple of foundation executives to tour the Midtown Community Court. It was a great visit, highlighted by a conversation with a client in Midtown’s fatherhood program who had originally come to the Court as a defendant. In the course of detailing his efforts to achieve sobriety, Daniel said that if it wasn’t for the Midtown Community Court, he would be dead.
At the risk of appearing insensitive, I usually dismiss this kind of language. It is not uncommon for clients to make over-the-top rhetorical gestures. But this time, it stopped me cold. It may have been because of the earnest way the line was delivered. Or maybe it was Daniel’s facial scarring, which spoke of a life lived on the edge.
In any case, it was a powerful reminder of the importance of the work that is being done on the ground every day by our case managers, outreach workers, violence interrupters, social workers and youth workers in places like Red Hook, Brownsville, Harlem, Crown Heights, Newark, and the South Bronx. They are literally in the business of saving lives.
How do they do it? According to Daniel, the client at Midtown, the answer is love. He talked about his relationship with his case manager, and the care she had shown him, even when he relapsed or failed to show up for court appearances.
Daniel also talked about the importance of small gestures. In his case, the purchase of a meal at McDonalds when he was at a low moment was a sign of the program’s love and respect – a love and respect that he has attempted to reciprocate by meeting his obligations to the court. The drug treatment and the job training and the judicial monitoring were important to Daniel, but they might have gone for nought if they were not accompanied by the feeling that his case manager truly cared for him.
Daniel’s story isn’t over yet, of course. Staying clean will be a lifetime struggle. And he still needs to find long-term employment. But Daniel has reconnected with his daughter and is attempting to be a good father.
As depressing at it is to contemplate the life trajectories of the men involved in the Midtown shooting earlier this week, Daniel’s example gives me hope that – with the right combination of programming and accountability and, yes, love -- these trajectories can be altered.