As coordinator of Violence Outreach, Intervention & Community Engagement for Christiana Care Health System, Chaz Molins, MSW, LCSW, was right where he wanted to be on the evening of Oct. 7, standing before a group of boys and young men in the downstairs teen center of the Clarence Fraim Boys & Girls Club in Wilmington.
He was there to deliver a sober message about making good life choices to avoid becoming a victim of gun violence. The evening drew close to 80 young men and adults, and was much like a similar event held earlier that week in Seaford, Del., for minority males 15 to 34.
“I’ll go just about anywhere for education and outreach to help families and young people at risk for being harmed,” Molins said.
The presentation called “We Are the Why” is a result of a partnership that includes Christiana Care, the United Way of Delaware, Wilmington Police Department, Seaford Police Department, Dover Police Department and the Boys & Girls Club of Delaware. “We are the Why” gives young men a chance to learn about the consequences of gun violence and the dangers of being confrontational during police interactions.
The collaboration grew out individual efforts of Christiana Care, the city of Wilmington and the United Way of Delaware to work on life-saving training programs for teenagers and young adult men of color. Over the last several months, the United Way has worked to create a Delaware model of Justice in Time, a celebrated Chicago program that teaches young black men their rights and responsibilities as citizens.
“In particular, we want to teach black youth about having more positive interaction with law enforcement,” said Orrin White, assistant director of Community Engagement for the United Way. “In combining with Christiana Care and the Boys & Girls Club, we’ve created the first steps of many efforts to give young people the skills and education they need.”
During “We Are the Why” at the Fraim Boys & Girls Club, Molins talked about the devastating impact of bullets on the human body. He also showed compelling images of gun wounds, while explaining how traumatic injuries are treated at Christiana Care.
“These are images we don’t usually see and remind us not to put ourselves in situations where guns are being used,” said Jamal Adams, a 17-year-old student at William Penn High School.
Molins also played a 15-minute film produced with the support of Christiana Care called “Choice Road: An American Tale.” Featuring local students, police and Christiana Care medical professionals, “Choice Road” tells the story of a young man deciding to join a gang. Unfortunately, there are ripple effects throughout the community. Not only is the young man shot; he becomes a quadriplegic. His friends are injured and killed.
“These are young people like you — minority city youth who are getting shot. So I want you to know that staying alive is very much dependent on your choices and who you are hanging out with,” he said.
Molins explained that the majority of gun victims in Delaware are brought to Christiana Hospital, the only Level 1 trauma center between Baltimore and Philadelphia that treats both adults and children. As a member of the Trauma Department, Molins is part of the hospital’s commitment to reduce the number of shootings. Molins works with gunshot victims, helping them obtain the counseling and services they need so violence will not spread when victims leave the hospital and return to their homes in city hot spots.
He also works to stem violence in other ways. Molins shows the film “Choice Road” in middle schools, detention centers and other venues, talking about the effects of gun violence.
“Guns are not a video game,” Molins told the young men. “If you get killed there is no reset button.”
As part of his talk, Molins gave out toe tags, which are typically attached to dead bodies in the morgue. He asked the youths to write the names of friends and family, coaches and teachers, who would grieve their loss, if they ended up with such a tag.
“Write me on there,” said Molins. “If I open the paper and see one of you has been shot, I will be devastated.”
Darion Gray, director of the Wilmington Youth Leadership Commission, said the film and presentation showed the consequences of gun violence and left a strong impression on teens who attended with him. “Our young men need to believe in positive change and reject temptations that lead to bad outcomes,” he said.
Molins invited gunshot victim Christian Harris of Bear to talk about what it’s like to spend months in the hospital after being shot in the arm, shoulder, face and lower abdomen. When the lean 21-year-old walked to the front of the room, the audience grew extra attentive.
A graduate of William Penn High School, Harris was touched that several members of the school’s Club of Gentlemen were on hand. He said that when he was their age he would not have had the good sense to be at an event like this. In fact, Harris did not think about where his life was headed and one night found himself carelessly sitting in his car outside the home of a friend. That’s when a man pulled a gun to rob him and repeatedly shot Harris.
“I had five surgeries and had the lower part of my leg amputated,” said Harris, who speaks of himself as a walking testimony to the idea that choices in life matter. “To be honest I am grateful to be alive and grateful that Chaz invited me to be part of something positive in talking to you.”
In addition to Harris’s emotional speech, 10 officers from the Wilmington Police Department engaged in role play with the dozens of youths. In short skits, officers and audience members improvised situations about what it’s like to be stopped by police.
“I want these young people to know that I am here to protect and serve, not oppress and dominate,” said Captain Faheem Akil, a 31-year veteran of the Wilmington Police.
Officers also explained how to file a complaint with the Wilmington Police if the youths ever feel their rights are violated during a police encounter. All this is information that is vital to minority youth, said Robin Brinkley-White of Wilmington, a mother who attended the event. Her son Brandon was killed almost seven years ago at a nightclub where he was celebrating his 25th birthday.
To counter such violence, she supports Christiana Care’s program You Only Live Once (YOLO). YOLO makes use of a Christiana Care simulation lab, where a team of trauma nurses and physicians re-enact the resuscitation of a gunshot victim on a mannequin. In doing so, the medical team tells the story of Brinkley-White’s son.
“I feel like it’s important to tell Brandon’s story so his life will not be in vain,” said Brinkley-White.
Another mother on hand for “We are the Why” was Shanae Dunn of Elsmere, who attended with two sons, who are 12 and 13. She hopes the event will prove to be an inoculation against gun violence.
“I’m glad my sons took part,” she said. ”Sitting in on this was one of the best experiences I’ve had.”