BY: THE REV. LIZ STEINHAUSER, Senior Director of St. Stephen's Youth Programs
Priest Associate, St. Stephen's Youth Programs
On Thursday, March 28, the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign received the prestigious Peace MVP Award from the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence. With the Peace MVP Award, the Mass Coalition recognizes significant and meaningful work by individuals and organizations to stop the scourge of gun violence in Massachusetts. The B-PEACE for Campaign is a project of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts and, thanks to a partnership with the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and support from Episcopal City Mission, it has a state-wide reach. Several other youth-led gun violence prevention organizations, including March for Our Lives-Boston, also received awards.
Massachusetts House Speaker Robert DeLeo presented the award to B-PEACE leaders at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley during the Mass Coalition’s Annual Event. The Peace MVP Award recognizes B-PEACE’s work over the last year, along with fellow award recipient the Pioneer Valley Project in Springfield, to bring attention to the need for gun manufacturers to play an active role in ending gun violence. The global headquarters of Smith and Wesson is based in Springfield. Weapons manufactured by Smith and Wesson were used in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, along with other significant mass shootings in recent years. Smith and Wesson guns are also the most frequently used weapon in crimes in Chicago, one of the few cities that tracks and makes public such information about gun manufacturers.
B-PEACE leader Ekran Sharif proudly received the award and speakers Anthony Pereira-Pomales and Maoly Lara Pena offered words of thanks and urgency. As Lara Pena said in her comments, “I care about gun violence because when I was six years old, I witnessed an accidental shooting. Three people, including my mom and a pregnant woman, were injured with one bullet. It was horrific to see. This had a huge impact on my life then and now...We think that the corporations that make the guns have to be responsible about where the guns are sold and how they are used. We think that Smith and Wesson should be a leader in helping families like mine who are affected by gun violence.”
More than 25 other B-PEACE leaders were part of the 400-person crowd, who applauded and gave the teens a standing ovation. Among those gathered was Mirna Ramos, mother of Jorge Fuentes, a young man who grew up in the community of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church. He was shot and killed at the age of 19 in front of his home in September 2012. The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign was started in the wake of the grief of this tragedy and strives to honor his memory by addressing the root causes of violence. Following the event, teens presented the actual award to Ms Ramos who wept and hugged the young leaders.
In addition to the award ceremony, the night also included a speech by David Hogg, who graduated last spring from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Hogg has become a national leader on gun violence following the February 2018 shooting at his school, which caused the immediate death of 17 people and which has led more recently to the deaths of two more young people, who died by suicide due, at least in part, to the trauma of the incident. Nikkia Jean-Charles, a B-PEACE leader, participated in a panel with Hogg along with a young leader from the Pioneer Valley Project. They fielded questions from Mass General Hospital physician Dr. Chana Sacks who asked the panelists questions such as why they cared about gun violence, how they took care of themselves in the midst of their activism, and where they saw hope for solutions.
After the event, while taking selfies with Hogg and each other, B-PEACE and Pioneer Valley Project leaders expressed gratitude for the award recognition and a re-commitment to the campaign to engage Smith and Wesson CEO James Debney in productive conversations for solutions to gun violence. To find out more about the B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign’s work or to get involved in their next action, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.