Studies show that green spaces reduce the likelihood of violence. Let’s Thrive Baltimore’s Healing Garden provides a place for survivors of gun violence to gather and connect.
Let’s Thrive Baltimore (LTB) started as a small group supporting the programs needed for a small number of young people in 2016. Now, we’re supporting the needs of 197 youth and their families who have suffered from traumatic losses due to gun violence.
When I founded LTB, I was focused on keeping young people out of the line of fire on the streets of Sandtown. Sandtown, the neighborhood of the Freddie Gray uprising, a beautiful neighborhood once the home of Cab Calloway and prosperous Black families, had deteriorated due to long-term disinvestment.
I set out with the goal of making sure students knew they had a purpose and meaning in their lives—so we started with small cleaning and greening projects to contribute to the health of the neighborhood. I made sure they had enough to eat and were able to have the school supplies and clothing they needed. I simultaneously developed programs to help them learn to handle their fears and concerns, while making sure to give them room to be children and have fun in a safe place.
Since our origin, we have grown exponentially. We now run projects including:
- Mentoring, job programs, and support groups for our young people;
- Financial literacy, career consulting, and therapeutic programs for families;
- Housing, rental, and cash assistance for survivors of violence, and
- Maintaining our Healing Garden for survivors of gun violence.
We began serving 1,000 meals a day in Baltimore when the COVID-19 outbreak began in 2020, and continued that service through 2022. To ensure students could log into classes during the pandemic, we gave away hundreds of digital devices. We also recently launched programs on police reform and stopping human trafficking.
These days, my day starts with a prayer for guidance and strength and then takes off with managing staff, conferring with Board members, and checking on community members. I spend time working towards constructing a youth center on abandoned property adjacent to the Healing Garden. And the best part is still working directly with the young people—seeing what they have going on, what they’re wearing to prom, and dispensing hugs along with words of support and encouragement. I try to be an incubator for good every day.
It’s past time we protect our children from gun violence. In the first three months of the year, 39 children and teens were shot, and eleven of them died in Baltimore. It’s unacceptable that our future is being taken away by gun violence.
Gun violence creates ripples in the community spreading from the victims out to their families, friends, and neighborhoods. There are a few blocks where every other house has been directly affected by this crisis. I have seen how parents lose jobs due to grief and loss that then sends the entire family into a spiral of hunger, poverty, and homelessness. We aim to break this cycle by supporting families in their time of loss, and by showing them that we care about them and their loved ones, and that we understand their pain.
I too have been directly affected by gun violence. My longtime partner, the love of my life, Deallen Jones, was shot and killed. My goddaughter, Tyreka Martin, has been taken by gun violence. My niece, Shawnna Spann, was shot and died instantly. I think of them and the lives they could be living every day. Their memory gives me the strength to keep going on the toughest days.
But right now the best parts of my day are hearing from the youth in our group. Mook is one of our alumni who said that if he didn’t join the program, his life would be different—he may have been hurt or in prison. Instead, he graduated from the program last fall and is now working: We helped him start his own business. He also still trains younger youth to engage in the landscaping committee and shows up on Saturdays to help keep up the garden.
Tyric Byer started with Let’s Thrive Baltimore two years ago and graduated from school in May. After he graduates from our program, he has decided to stay in Baltimore and go to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. He plans to continue to make a difference in his community, and we have already hired him as a youth director/project coordinator.
I hear over and over again from the young people we’ve helped that the Garden is a safe space for them and the community. The base of our crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) work is the Healing Garden. Radiating out from that, we maintain abandoned lots by mowing and clearing debris. The CPTED project grant funding not only improves the garden, but also expands it into a Healing Nature Trail for quiet contemplation and connection to nature.
The idea behind this project is that people need a place right in the neighborhood to honor their loved ones. Many do not have cars to get to gravesites, so our Garden gives them a space of respect and love to honor their grief. We provide a stone with the name of their loved ones and they place it and look after that area with decorations or flowers.
Our hope is that this garden will serve as a “stepping stone” and a start to the healing process for hurting families and youth. Additionally, our young people mow the lawn and weed the area; in return, they get a stipend to provide income for their families. Their ability to supplement a family income gives them a stake in the neighborhood and helps them see the connection between their work and the compensation they receive for it.
Many studies show that the presence of green spaces reduces the likelihood of violence. Our Healing Garden provides a place for survivors of gun violence to gather and connect. Those types of connections make it possible for the survivors to develop coping strategies for their healing.
I have a vision for a complex project that will eventually include a building for youth to meet, learn, and grow. I wanted to have a connecting trail to that future building from the Healing Garden and to make that trail itself a place of beauty and rest. This would also eliminate an unsightly dumping ground for trash and debris. I needed to have a one-time investment in this area to give it a boost, since I have a number of grants for ongoing direct support of youth, but not as much for the CPTED part of my work.
And as the Wear Orange Lead for Baltimore City Moms Demand Action, I was able to make the connection to the Everytown Wear Orange CPTED grant program with help from our Local Group Lead. We wanted to honor victims and celebrate the victories of the survivors in living each day. After being awarded the grant, I have been very busy—getting bids from local contractors to clear the trail, finding appropriate quality tables, getting the supplies for the gardening work, guiding the youth in the planning, locating appropriate flowers and plants, and, of course, finding a supplier of crabs for our Wear Orange celebration event, because any celebration in Baltimore City has to include fresh crabs.
Wear Orange has had a huge impact on my work. My first connection to Moms Demand Action was through a Wear Orange event. When I was asked to be Wear Orange Lead and work with this incredible group of survivors and advocates, I knew I had to jump in.
These connections have been so valuable in supporting my work, and in working with youth as well. This Advocacy Day, our youth met directly with legislators to talk about their experiences with gun violence and the necessity for gun safety laws. They also offer ways for survivors to tell their stories with the Everytown Survivor Network. We want their stories to live on.
We are so excited about the progress so far, and we have big plans for creating a youth center right in this under-resourced neighborhood. We need to hire an architect and landscape architect to make this a place of joy and connection. We would love to hear from other organizations that have done this before. If anyone sees our vision and would like to support us, we welcome their donation here.
And sending prayers and love in our direction is absolutely something that means everything to me.
Let’s Thrive Baltimore.
Let’s not just survive, let’s prosper.
Let’s celebrate our young people.
Let’s provide the resources and technology they need to reach their promise.
Let’s give them jobs building safe and beautiful places to play.
Let’s create the opportunities they need to flourish and follow their passions.
Let’s make jobs that let parents put good food on the table and savings in the bank.
Let’s help parents through career consulting and access to credit.
Let’s support strong relationships between our seniors and our youth.
Let’s engage hurting families in conversations that help them heal.
Let’s demand the best health care for our seniors.
Let’s end the school-to-prison pipeline, so our men can raise their babies, guide our youth, and love their partners.
Let’s end gun violence through bold advocacy and community solutions.
Let’s build a community where our children can play outside without their families worrying.
Let’s stop having parents bury their children.
Let’s organize to create the vibrant city we deserve.
Let’s elect leaders we are proud of and hold them accountable.
Let’s walk together and move with the heartbeat of this city.
We don’t want to just get by.
Let’s refuse scarcity and live in abundance.
Let’s pour our passion into art, song, technology, industry, clean streets, and healthy families.
Let’s celebrate our community.
Let’s Thrive Baltimore.
See what Let’s Thrive Baltimore was up to in 2021
Every year, Wear Orange and National Gun Violence Awareness Day are a “big deal” to Lisa Molock, Executive Director of Let’s Thrive Baltimore. Year-round, the Baltimore, MD-based organization provides support to families impacted by trauma, but she considers Wear Orange on June 4 a special opportunity for remembrance. “Everyone in… Continue
Lisa Molock (she/her)
Chief Executive Officer of Let’s Thrive Baltimore, a Everytown Wear Orange CPTED grantee