I joined Moms Demand Action in 2022. My journey in gun violence prevention is not just professional; I am driven by a personal mission rooted in my own experiences as a gunshot survivor and the painful losses I’ve endured due to gun violence.
I grew up in Washington, D.C., during an era when it was known as the “murder capital of the U.S.” I was a witness to, victim of, and, regrettably, a participant in the cycle of violence that plagued our community. My life’s trajectory was fundamentally altered the night I was shot in the head and left for dead—an experience that serves as a constant reminder of the fragility of life and the pervasive impact of gun violence.
My past as a survivor, the memories of my friends lost to gun violence, and the ongoing cries of their bereaved mothers fuel my passion for this cause.
In the wake of these tragedies, I have found a renewed purpose. Under the guidance of the late Linda Harllee Harper, my involvement with the Building Blocks DC (BBDC) initiative was a significant step in my journey. As an expert advisor at BBDC, I contributed to the policies that led to the formation of the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Office of the City Administrator in Washington, D.C., of which Harllee Harper was the first director. While secretly battling cancer, she also served as the director of the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement because she understood the importance of her role in championing that “the answer is in the community.” After BBDC, I began working as a hospital responder at United Medical Center, where I stand as the first line of defense and support for other gunshot victims.
In October 2023, I took on my current role as the D.C. chapter co-lead for Moms Demand Action. In this role, I leverage my experiences—both harrowing and transformative—to drive change and offer support. Here, I am part of a more significant movement that demands policy change and provides a platform for healing and hope. We strive to create a future where gun violence is no longer a common tragedy and is instead a rare exception. This mission is profoundly personal, unwavering, and drives me daily.
To understand the imperative of gun violence prevention and elevating Black voices within this movement, it’s essential to recognize the universal impact of this issue. Gun violence—whether in the form of mass shootings or daily occurrences, in rural communities or in urban areas—inflicts a shared grief. The fight against it isn’t segmented by geography; every loss, irrespective of where it happens, diminishes us all.
Solutions to mitigate the current crisis and to foster a safer and more equitable future for all people must be informed by the people most impacted by gun violence. Education and access to mental health resources are essential, but they must be part of a broader strategy addressing economic disparities, educational challenges, and limited job opportunities. Proactive support that identifies and addresses the needs of at-risk youth before they become victims or perpetrators of violence is also vital. Through comprehensive solutions, community-driven strategies, and rigorous program accountability, advocates can more effectively support communities impacted by the trauma of gun violence.
Elevating Black voices in this movement is not just about representation; it’s about harnessing a breadth of perspectives that are key to developing effective, inclusive strategies to stop gun violence. These voices offer essential guidance in this work and bring forward insights from communities where the consequences of gun violence are often most acute.
Everytown’s Black History Month theme of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: A Legacy of Black Gun Violence Prevention resonates deeply with me, and it is the stories of resilience and transformation that fuel my hope in the gun violence prevention movement. When I listen to the narratives of mothers across the nation who have faced the unimaginable loss of their children to gun violence, I am moved not only by their grief, but by their incredible strength. These mothers, who are often overlooked, are the bedrock of our communities and the silent warriors in our fight against this relentless epidemic.
These narratives bridge the gap between our past struggles and our hopes for tomorrow. They are a testament to the enduring spirit of those who have fought and are still fighting against the scourge of gun violence. As we reflect on the legacy of Black advocacy in gun violence prevention, these stories highlight a journey—marked by the pain of our past and the determination of our present—that paves the way for a safer, more hopeful tomorrow.
“Not one more” is not only a slogan. It’s a commitment—a promise to do everything within our power to stop the cycle of gun violence. When we stand together, we amplify our call for action, commit to healing and change, and reinforce a support network for those who face the brunt of this crisis daily. Our collective action is our greatest asset in pursuing a safer, more equitable future for all.
I look forward to working alongside fellow advocates, community members, and all stakeholders to create a future where gun violence is no longer a pervasive threat but instead a problem of the past. Together, we can turn our shared vision of a safer, more peaceful community into a reality.
Fernando Smith (he/him)
Fernando Smith is the Washington, D.C. chapter co-lead for Moms Demand Action.