Local groups hoping to cut shooting deaths

Atlanta resident Tanisha Mackin married her best friend, Danyell Mackin, on August 14, 2009, but lost him a year later to the leading cause of death among young African-American men. He was shot to death.

Not having had a traditional wedding ceremony — they were married by a justice of the peace — the newlyweds decided to hold a reception on their one-year anniversary in their hometown of Buffalo, N.Y. The celebration took a down turn after an argument in the restaurant. As the partiers broke up, a shooter sprayed them with bullets, killing four people, including Danyell. He was 30.

“It has been hard on me because I became a single parent, lost an income, along with losing my best friend, lover and partner,” Mackin said. “I felt alone and it took a toll on me. I often wonder how life would be today if he was here. I’m scared to raise my children on my own.”

For the past three decades, shooting deaths have been the leading cause of mortality among those under the age of 30, with African- American males having the highest risk. Most recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System shows that in 2011, 264 African-American males were shot to death in Georgia. Of those, 183 died before reaching 30.

Several Atlanta-based community organizations are working to bring those numbers down with programs ranging from mentoring to teaching young men life skills.

The cold numbers don’t tell the stories of fathers and sons, brothers and children lost. That duty belongs to survivors, such as Brandy Brown-Rhodes, the daughter of murdered DeKalb County Sheriff Derwin Brown. Though he was older than 30 when gunned down in his driveway in 2000, she still feels the effects.

“Gun violence is such a heinous act,” she said. “Men are the pillars of their family. It is devastating.”

Former DeKalb Sheriff Sidney Dorsey was convicted of ordering Brown’s shooting.

No single issue can determine why young African-American males have a higher risk of gun homicide, but many broader community factors can contribute.

Brown-Rhodes said: “A lot of our kids are stuck; they are stuck in what they see. Back in the old days, you learned how to work on houses, cars and do other things because your father taught you or your grandfather taught you. So you knew how to get money.

“But now guys don’t know how to do that type of stuff because their fathers are not in the home. They have gone to jail and (are) not there to teach them. The cycle goes on.”

Dr. Corinne Ferdon, deputy associate director of science at the CDC, said young people are put at risk if they grow up in poverty, have limited supervision, emotional or academic problems, or are encouraged by friends and family members or their communities to be aggressive.

Atlanta native Keeyanna Haygood has 13 memorial tattoos of the names of close friends who have died. Out of those, 10 were shot to death. Her experience tells her at least one reason for high numbers of shooting deaths.

“Cowards. Young guys pull out guns because it’s a lot of pride. They can’t take a loss,” said Haygood.

Some of those who have lost someone to gun violence are working to help prevent other deaths. They are creating programs that attempt to disrupt the development of violence in adolescence. And starting young is critical to success, according to a CDC report.

The Metropolitan Atlanta Violence Prevention Partnership (MAVPP), the Sweet Auburn Experience (SAX) and the Atlanta chapter of the National Action Network (NAN) have all contributed in efforts to decrease shooting deaths among African-American young men.

Marcus Coleman, founder of the Atlanta NAN chapter, said: “We are working on several missions, including a forum I’ve been doing every six months, a male symposium called ‘Boys to Men.’ It has to do with the mentoring, shaping and molding of our youth, primarily our boys.”

Coleman has also joined with the Sweet Auburn Experience and the International Core DJs to bring awareness, spark action, and try to lower gun violence. SAX staged a scheduled 24-hour Party for Peace at the Royal Peacock on Auburn Avenue on Thursday and Friday.

“I wanted to deliver a message to the youth that can bridge the generational gap,” Coleman said. “They are thirsty for someone to be receptive to them, love them and be able to speak with them. But it’s who’s delivering the message that’s turning them off. I feel like I have that niche to kind of bridge that generational gap.”

African-American gun-related male homicide rates have decreased slowly in the United States over a 30-year study period, but Georgia figures rose recently.

“The decline trend is stalling, declining about one percent a year,” said the CDC’s Ferdon. “What communities are doing is working, but they need to continue prevention efforts.”

In Georgia, the homicide rate among African-American males increased from 252 deaths in 2010 to 264 deaths in 2011. Community groups such as SAX and its Party for Peace hope to lower those rates.

“What’s real life is when your mom has to go to the funeral home to see you,” Haygood said. “She already doesn’t really have enough money to feed and clothe you. She’s making ends meet. Now she has to put you in the dirt.”

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