The Everytown Survivor Network (ESN) is a nationwide community of gun violence survivors working together to end gun violence. We connect survivors to each other, offer assistance and resources, amplify survivor voices, and support their advocacy efforts.
Last year, for the first time, the ESN offered one-time grants to nonprofit organizations that directly support survivors in communities hardest hit by gun violence. Each one advances our shared mission by providing direct emotional or financial support to survivors, connecting victims with essential services, and elevating survivor voices in communities across the nation.
As is the case for all survivor advocates, our grantees’ meaningful work is deeply personal. Here are some of their stories.
2 Moms Bonded By Grief
Life was good for Terrez McCleary, with most days revolving around her family’s business, when, on Easter Sunday 2009, her 21-year-old daughter, Tamara Johnson, was murdered, leaving behind her two-year-old daughter. “I will never be the same person,” says Terrez.
Today, as co-founder of the Philadelphia-based organization 2 Moms Bonded By Grief, Terrez convenes weekly support groups for survivors. The organization also visits neighborhood schools, sharing personal experiences of loss and providing advice to help students avoid altercations. 2 Moms Bonded by Grief also hosts retreats and holiday parties for the surviving children of homicide victims.
Terrez, who became involved in the Everytown Survivor Network in the wake of her daughter’s death, says 2 Moms Bonded by Grief is using their ESN grant to fund a licensed therapist’s regular visits to the support groups. They also held a holiday brunch for the mothers of victims and contributed funds to cover funeral costs for gun violence victims who did not have life insurance.
Terrez says that she struggles with depression and anxiety, misses her daughter’s smile and her love of family functions. What keeps her going, she says, “is my joy in helping other moms navigate this hurdle.”
A Hand Up to Success, Inc.
On April 1, 2015, Crystal Turner’s daughter Jenea, 29, and her youngest son, Donell McDonald Jr., 23, were shot and killed by Jenea’s estranged husband in a domestic violence incident. “I went from being a mother/grandmother/fiancée to a mother/wife/advocate/public figure,” Crystal says. “But mostly [I am] a woman whose life has forever been changed because of gun violence.”
While sharing her story at a city council meeting in 2017, Crystal connected with a Moms Demand Action volunteer leader. She participated in Wear Orange for the first time that year, and she has been a part of ESN ever since. “Everytown has been a major part of my being able to help others heal,” she says.
Crystal founded A Hand Up to Success, Inc., an online peer support group that serves bereaved Black and Brown mothers in several states. With their ESN grant, the organization is expanding their reach and offering more frequent meetings, some of which now include a licensed therapist.
Crystal’s work is fueled by the notion that her children’s deaths are not in vain. “Had I not had the experience of losing them the way I did, I would have probably never become who I am today,” she says. “And that is a survivor, not a victim of gun violence.”
Chicago Survivors, Inc.
Oji Eggleston sees the toll of gun violence every day in his role as executive director of Chicago Survivors, Inc., a non-profit organization that offers services to families who have lost a loved one to homicide. But for Oji, a Chicago native, the work is also deeply personal, as gun violence has taken the lives of his high school friend (1989), college basketball teammate (1993), and several other friends in more recent years. Before these tragedies, “my life was not filled with the stress and trauma associated with violence,” he says. “Now, gun violence surrounds me.”
Chicago Survivors offers crisis response and grief and supportive counseling for adults, as well as clinical counseling for youth. “Our focus is to heal those that have been hurt because hurt people hurt people…the victim often turns into the perpetrator,” Oji says. “To interrupt the cycle of violence, people and communities have to heal.”
Their ESN grant has funded its new community space on the south side of Chicago, where families can receive services. It’s also being used to provide stress relief kits to families, share PPE equipment with families and staff, and extend direct youth programming from summer-only to year-round.
Oji’s own healing journey is “ongoing and never-ending,” he says. “It has shown me that there are many supports available when needed.”
In the early morning hours of August 4, 2019, a fun night out for Dion Green and his father, Derrick Fudge, turned into a nightmare, when a mass shooter opened fire in Dayton, Ohio’s Oregon District, killing Fudge and eight other people.
In the difficult year that followed, Dion founded the FUDGE (Flourishing Under Distress Given Encouragement) Foundation to serve as a support system for people who have been impacted, directly or indirectly, by mass shootings, violence, and other traumatic events.
Dion also connected with the Everytown Survivor Network after the shooting, in order to share his story. He is most proud of the FUDGE Foundation’s work with families impacted by trauma as well as their advocacy work both in Ohio and in Washington, D.C. The organization has used their ESN grant to fund more retreats and events for survivors navigating trauma.
Dion describes his healing journey as “a rollercoaster.” What keeps him going, he says, is hope.
Jared’s Heart of Success, Inc.
Sharmaine Brown’s son, Jared, was on his way to a neighborhood cookout on July 11, 2015, when he was struck by a stray bullet that killed him instantly. “My life changed immediately,” Sharmaine says. She created the community outreach organization Jared’s Heart of Success, Inc. (JHOSI) in honor of her son, “to advocate for violence prevention and support families that have been impacted.”
Today JHOSI, which works in both Georgia and South Carolina, provides grief counseling, financial support, peer mentoring, and other trauma-informed services to people impacted by gun violence.
Sharmaine first heard about ESN through volunteering with Moms Demand Action. She says that she wanted to share her story “in order to put a face to the names of families impacted by gun violence.” JHOSI is using their ESN grant to fund expenses and services for grieving families and to expand their violence prevention program for at-risk youth and teens.
“Jared’s heart continues to beat through the work of the organization,” says Sharmaine, adding that her work helps her as she continues to come to terms with her own loss. “As his mother, I will do everything possible to keep his memory and legacy alive.”
As a teenager, Vincent Pierce was, as he says, “Running the streets… not listening to the older people around me, which caused me to be incarcerated numerous times.” In January 2012, at age 26, he was shot in the neck, which left him paralyzed.
After moving to a nursing facility in Roosevelt Island, New York, Vince took part in a writing workshop through Open Doors NYC, an organization that works with Black and Brown people who have been denied accessibility and opportunity in art—particularly artists with disabilities. This experience inspired him to start the music program ZING!, which, he says, is “showing kids from neighborhoods like the one I grew up in that they are bigger than what their environments expect them to be.”
During the pandemic, Vince began hosting Guns Down, Mic Up! (GDMU), a virtual, Friday evening open mic where artists can perform, receive constructive feedback, and discuss topics related to gun violence prevention. Funds from the ESN grant keeps the program going, says Vince, by contributing to guest speaker honorariums, music equipment for participants, prizes at our open mic nights, and more.
The challenges in the work are many, but “there’s still life, being paralyzed,” says Vince. “If you can get just one person to come around and make a change, you’re doing good work.”
We Are Their Voices
Tisa Whack’s 23-year-old son, Tyrell, was a newlywed and a father of a soon-to-be three-year-old, when, on November 30, 2015, he and his friend, Jamal, were killed in their hometown of Summerville, South Carolina.
Through her local Moms Demand Action chapter, Tisa learned about the services offered by the Everytown Survivors Network. “The work being done to support survivors and the advocacy work motivated me to become more involved,” she says, adding that the programs offered through the network gave her the encouragement she needed to start her own organization.
We Are Their Voices supports survivors and educates communities about the effects of gun violence. They lead a monthly support group, run programs that focus on healing the heart, mind and spirit, and provide annual scholarships to high school students attending college or a trade school. They are using their ESN grant to fund a new initiative focused on survivor self-care through yoga, meditation, art and more.
Her work “makes positive meaning out of a tragedy,” Tisa says. “I think about the legacy that my son left in my grandchild, and I want him and others to know that the lives of my son and the many others taken from gun violence mattered.”