HUNDT: Reclaiming the joy in the journey

Last week, the Senate voted down a proposed measure to thwart the spread of gun violence by expanding background checks. After a spate of horrific incidents from Tucson to Newtown, it seemed as though the country was finally on the cusp of preventing the senseless tragedies that happen every month in cities like New Haven — or, according to the FBI, once every 25 seconds. Polls showed overwhelming public support for gun-control measures like enhanced background checks, and Colorado and Connecticut demonstrated leadership by taking action at the state level. But the final vote tallies were disappointing.

Since we live in a democracy, we can always elect new representatives who will vote our values next time. But we cannot wait for the next election. The next victim does not have this luxury.

Furthermore, we know there are things we can do to prevent gun violence even without new legislation. In Chicago, the nonprofit Cure Violence treats the gun epidemic as a disease. To combat violence, they use methods and strategies associated with disease control: identifying individuals involved in transmission, and changing social norms in communities where violence routinely occurs. According to the National Institute of Justice, these methods have effectively reduced violence by as much as 50 percent.

This quarter, as a capstone social impact project at the Yale School of Management, I’ve worked with a team to design a fundraising drive on behalf of Cure Violence. Picking this cause was a no-brainer. I had watched the news post-Newtown, and I’ve spent six years in New Haven, where gun violence is all too common. Helping fund this nonprofit seemed like a tangible way to make a difference. But this cause did not become truly personal until one of my teammates shared her own motivation.

“In my first few weeks here,” Tiffany had explained, “there was something I was carrying around that I didn’t tell anyone. I was scared how I’d be viewed.” My other teammates and I looked at each other, bracing ourselves for the worst.

“I was woken up by a phone call from my mom one Saturday morning last September. My cousin, Vincent,” she paused. “We called him ‘Mike Mike.’ He was murdered.” Long-overdue tears flooded her face. She placed her fogged glasses on a table, adding that she has felt consumed by guilt since that day. “I didn’t want my classmates to see me, an African-American woman from inner-city Chicago, and have the first thing they learn be the fact that my cousin was murdered. That would have been so cliché.”

Her words stung. I felt terrible for Tiffany, but I also felt terrible for our community. If Yalies must hide their struggle, then our community is not nearly as open as it strives to be.

In my pre-business school life, I had a boss who had a favorite saying: “The joy is in the journey.” When times were tough, he’d remind junior employees to keep their heads up, appreciate friends and co-workers, and relish the struggle. By comparison, it is often said that we are in a bubble while we are in the midst of our Yale journeys. The ills of life beyond Phelps Gate occasionally pierce this façade — often in the form of email notifications from Yale Police Chief Ronnell Higgins.

But Tiffany reminded me of my farsightedness. Gun violence interrupts the lives of so many, and tragedy touches us all. What matters is how we talk about it.

This week, I’ve seen the way sharing Tiffany’s story and fundraising for this cause elevates our collective consciousness. This practice, after all, resembles Cure Violence’s own model of direct, person-to-person, conflict resolution-style intervention.

I believe that Cure Violence deserves your donation. But I also believe Yale needs your voice. We must push each other to share our stories. When we do so, we help each other find joy and meaning in our collective journeys, even if they are far from perfect.

Nathaniel Hundt is a 2007 graduate of Davenport College and a student at the School of Management. Contact him at nathaniel.hundt@yale.edu.

This column is part of the News’ Friday Forum. Click here to continue.

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