Erricka Bridgeford’s first experience with gun violence was at age 12 when a friend was shot and killed. Her brother, four cousins, and stepson have since been killed by gun violence. She has turned her grief into action with the founding of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, an organization that promotes peace in Baltimore, Maryland.
“In my life, more friends have died from gun violence than I care to count. I’m involved in this work because I have to do something productive with the grief,” Bridgeford said. “I believe that if I want something to change or be healed, I have to be willing to do the work to make it happen.”
The work that Baltimore Ceasefire 365 does is, “spirit-led,” according to Bridgeford. The organization supports its community through a variety of resources—ranging from spiritual to financial to emotional support. They bless spaces where people have been killed to send love and light to that person’s spirit and their loved ones—and to help the community heal from collective and individual trauma.
“Our hearts, guts, and souls motivate us to keep doing this work,” Bridgeford shared. “We understand that we are helping to shift the culture of violence towards peace, and that if we simply keep showing up with light and love, darkness and hatred are simultaneously healed.”
Every quarter, Baltimore Ceasefire 365 hosts a Ceasefire weekend to encourage peace. During these weekends, they host events and ask for nonviolence throughout Baltimore. They see a significant reduction in violence during Ceasefire weekends. In February 2018, the Ceasefire weekend even led to 11 days without a homicide in Baltimore, which had not occurred since March 2014.
“Baltimore Ceasefire is one of groups making a huge impact on the ground,” Jennifer Stapleton, a City Gun Violence Prevention Co-Lead in the Maryland chapter of Moms Demand Action. “Shootings go down by half on Ceasefire weekends. And they do it with such joy and ‘high vibrations.’ I love what they are doing and how it is saving lives.”
Bridgeford’s goal is to see people agreeing to be peaceful and celebrating life. As a volunteer-led movement to end violence, they work to encourage the Baltimore community to participate in events year-round.
“I’m a survivor of gun violence. I was carjacked by a 19-year-old boy who ended up with 36 years in prison for his car jackings,” Stapleton said. “Of course I was traumatized, but what I thought, once I got through the shock and trauma, was, ‘How do we stop this from happening again—not just for survivors, but for perpetrators?’ That kid’s life was ruined, gone, because he had easy access to a gun. I love working with groups like Ceasefire Baltimore and Let’s Thrive Baltimore because they are getting to those kids and stopping that violence.”
National Gun Violence Awareness Day in June, when across the country advocates Wear Orange, a bigger spotlight is put on the gun violence prevention movement. Bridgeford sees this as a new opportunity to introduce peace into Baltimore’s communities.
“Having national spotlights on gun violence uplifts good work that’s being done all over the country, and it helps frontline peace warriors not feel alone,” Bridgeford said. “It also gives community members a chance to see that there are impactful things they can do with their disappointments related to violence. This lets us all remember our individual and collective power.”
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