After her husband was released from prison, Vinessa Brown found that society does not support previously incarcerated individuals, yet support is what they need most as they return to their communities and begin to rebuild their lives.
As a result, she and her husband, DeAndre Brown, founded Lifeline to Success, a Memphis, Tennessee-based organization that helps ex-offenders with re-entry. In addition to working to transform their lives, the participants are also working to solve some of the biggest problems facing Memphis: gun violence, crime, blight, and joblessness.
On National Gun Violence Awareness Day on June 4, 2021 that activism also included taking part in Wear Orange for the first time.
“Wear Orange and National Gun Violence Awareness Day means we are visible to say, ‘No more!’” Vinessa Brown said. “We are loud and proud to say we care about our brothers and sisters of all races. We wear our orange proudly, asking our elected officials to hear our voices and make a change to save lives.”
The Browns created Lifeline to Success in 2009 to be just that—a lifeline for those struggling with reintegration, just as DeAndre did when he returned home in 2005 after serving two years in state and federal prison. Since its founding, Lifeline to Success has reached more than 1,000 people.
Lifeline to Success works with those most at risk of perpetrating gun violence by helping them learn the tools they need to participate fully in society without engaging in crime. They have blight patrols, which do critical crime prevention work through environmental design. This program, which is contracted by the City of Memphis, works to clean blighted properties in Tennessee.
The organization helps people get work through meaningful partnerships with employers throughout the city, and walks them through the process of getting the education and paperwork they need to be job-ready.
At every point of the process, Lifeline to Success provides mentorship not only to their members, but also to other grassroots organizations fighting against gun violence, like the Memphis local group of Moms Demand Action. Both organizations are part of a citywide coalition fighting gun violence called the Partnership to Protect 901.
The Browns do this work to create an environment where their community members feel safe—their eight children included. “The children deserve a beautiful life. The seniors deserve to sit outside and enjoy their neighborhood,” she listed off. She is motivated by the changes she sees in the participants in Lifeline to Success’s programs, and watching them push to do good in their communities every day.
Kat McRitchie, a volunteer leader with the Tennessee chapter of Mom Demand Action, learned the ropes of gun violence prevention in Memphis in part through working with the Browns and Lifeline to Success. She became involved in gun violence prevention work in response to three events that happened in the same year: her neighbor’s son was shot and killed, her daughter’s preschool started having active shooter drills, and Tennessee passed a law allowing guns in parks.
“Lifeline to Success has been doing the grassroots of gun violence prevention for many years, and they were one of Memphis Moms Demand Action’s first community partners, from the day we gathered in 2015 in a public gazebo to make a stand against guns in parks,” McRitchie said.
“DeAndre Brown serves as an example of what is possible,” she continued. “He has personally experienced the transformation he is calling others into, and he is a powerful voice for change.”
To McRitchie, Wear Orange is a time to re-commit to the gun violence prevention work that she and community partners like the Browns do in honor of the people who have lost their lives to these preventable tragedies.
For Vinessa Brown, the month of June brings more reminders of the importance of the work Lifeline to Success is doing in Memphis. In addition to taking part in Wear Orange, she also celebrates the successes of the youth in the community.
“Every year we go to the graduation of a youth that many thought wouldn’t make it. Love is endless, so we share all we can,” she said. “As long as gun violence is an issue, I will not stop fighting. I fight in memory of the fallen, and I stand tall.”
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