Grassroots effort pushing free mental health care for kids touched by gun violence

The program will have licensed counselors, and men who've either been victims or lived a life of violence.

Christie Ileto Image
Friday, July 29, 2022
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A grassroots organization is mobilizing to make sure the city's youngest residents have a way to cope with gun violence trauma.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Philadelphia remains on pace with the number of homicides reported this time last year.

That's why a grassroots organization is mobilizing to make sure the city's youngest residents don't just have an outlet for the trauma, but also a place to cope with what's playing out on their blocks.

For Reginald Howard, this fight is personal.

"I was involved in gun violence. Not in my own way - I was in an attempted robbery," he said. "All I know is the partner that I was rocking with came back and said 'this old lady didn't want to give up her bag, so I shot' and I'm like, 'man!'"

That's when Howard knew he needed to make different choices.

"I don't even know why I was in that car with him, I don't know why I was doing the things I was doing," he said.

At the time he was 18. Now 31, he's turned his life around.

Once a youth member of the nonprofit Black Men Heal, he's now a senior program coordinator helping bring a new program called Gun Violence Group Therapy to city kids.

"And that's what GVGT is. It's like, let me understand why I'm doing the things I'm doing, and how can I find alternative ways to cope with trauma," Howard said.

"We want to be able to give them a space about how their mental health is impacted," said Edie King, a licensed professional counselor in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

The program, expected to launch this fall, will have licensed counselors, and men who've either been victims or lived a life of violence.

All services would be free, with an immediate focus on boys 12 to 17.

There's a reason they're focusing on that age group.

"What the research is showing is when it comes to gun violence, that's where these groups are being formed, these decisions are being made," King said. "The independent autonomy is happening and it also can open the door for some bad decision making or being at the wrong place at the wrong time."

For Howard, he's hoping to use his lived experience to help kids avoid a path he once walked.

"Sharing your story, sharing your journey, your trials and tribulations - it helps you as an individual," he said.

The program says it will eventually open to other age groups like co-ed young adults and families.

For more information or to sign up for this new program, visit BlackMenHeal.org