Meet Pastor Gwendolyn Cook, a fearless victim advocate for girls | NCVRW2017 profile

pastor cook and youthImagine surviving human trafficking, sexual abuse, assault, domestic violence, and gang exploitation all before the age of 13. Pastor Gwendolyn Cook sees it every day. She is the founder and director of Women Walking in the Spirit (WWITS) Girls Mentoring Program in Camden, NJ. Her organization works with young girls returning from juvenile detention at Hayes Secure Care Facility for Girls in Bordentown, NJ. The girls have survived severe and often multiple forms of trauma.

I’ve worked with Pastor Cook for over a year, helping WWITS to frame a narrative for their work and building a program model so they can gain new funding sources. WWITS is one of dozens of grassroots organizations across the country that I’ve had the honor to support over the last year and a half. These groups are providing healing for communities wrecked by violence, victimization, and trauma. I help them build capacity to access and maintain federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding, preparing them for long-term success and creating more resources for healing. I am most inspired by the many groups who work with little to no funding, with volunteers as the lifeline — groups like Pastor Cook’s.

This profile is part of EJUSA’s series on National Crime Victims Rights Week.

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Resolution, at last, for victim’s family in Florida

Darlene after plea announcement“It’s time for healing.”

That’s what Darlene Farah said when she walked out of the courtroom this morning, more than 3 1/2 years after her daughter, Shelby, was murdered.

James Rhodes pleaded guilty to killing Shelby after reaching an agreement with the new State’s Attorney, Melissa Nelson, that would take the death penalty off the table and forgo a trial. Nelson’s predecessor, Angela Corey, had refused to consider such an agreement with Rhodes and his attorneys. Corey even vilified Darlene for her desire to have the charges end in a plea deal.

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Healing the wounds of violence in Detroit | Profile

Mothers of Murdered Children, DetroitSince its founding more than 5 years ago, Mothers of Murdered Children Detroit (MOMC) has provided support, advocacy, and healing services to mothers and families who have lost loved ones to violence. From helping with funeral arrangements and facilitating grief support groups, to accompanying families to court and helping grieving grandmothers gain legal access of their grandchildren, MOMC is there for families who are trying to rebuild their lives after surviving violence.

EJUSA has been giving technical support to MOMC for several months, helping them build their capacity and prepare to apply for VOCA funding. Grassroots Capacity Building Specialist Latrina Kelly-James helped them organize all of their services and support into a program model, worked with them to create a client tracking system, developed program narratives, and coached the staff on building relationships with local and state resources.

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In memory of murder victims, set new priorities for action

Dorothy & ShariIt is more urgent than ever that we honor victims of violence by responding with healing, racial equality, and prevention. That was the message in an op-ed by EJUSA Executive Director Shari Silberstein and Dorothy Johnson-Speight from Mothers in Charge, published this week in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

To commemorate the National Day of Remembrance for Murder victims, Shari and Dorothy joined together to call for a new approach to addressing violence – one that recognizes that violence and homicide are a public-health crisis that needs a public-health solution, and that solution must be rooted in racial equity.

Homicide is the leading cause of death for African American males ages 15 to 34. For too long, the response to this crisis has been aggressive policing and incarceration. But mass incarceration, traumatizing police interactions, and a lack of care and support for people who experience violence have all worked to further devastate low-income black communities. Continue Reading →

On National Day of Remembrance, communities call for an end to the violence


Parents for Peace and Justice, a Chicago-based community violence prevent group, participates in the press conferences for National Day of Remembrance. Photo credit: Robert Torres

Community violence prevention groups from around the country gathered yesterday for National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. EJUSA’s longtime partner, Mothers In Charge, and its affiliates and coalition partners held press conferences to honor their loved ones and to renew their call for investment in public health approaches to violence prevention.

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Victim services dollars start going to communities in need

Victim services dollars start going to communities in need

The Los Angeles Metropolitan Churches (LAM) is building a network of local churches and community groups to provide trauma-informed services to African-American, Latino, and immigrant crime survivors in South Los Angeles.

And now, for the first time, they are receiving federal VOCA funds – funds earmarked for victims services – in order to carry out their work. These funds are more than just a grant. They mark a possible turning point for crime survivors of color, who have long been underserved by the traditional victim services field.

“All too often communities of color have had to witness and endure first-hand the ills and fall-out of social programs that don’t work, public safety systems that don’t protect and serve and cycles of violence and abuse that seem to never end,” said Cheryl Branch, Executive Director of LAM.

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Another Family harmed by murder and the fight over the death penalty

Shelby Farah at graduationShelby Farah was a bright, compassionate, determined 20-year-old when she was shot to death during a robbery at the Metro-PCS store where she worked. Shelby’s murder shocked the community in Jacksonville, Florida, and her family has spent the last two and a half years grieving their loss.

The death penalty has added to this trauma, as they have been forced to endure an extended legal process, increased media scrutiny, their own complex feelings about the death penalty, and a polarizing, public debate about it at a time when they need each other most.

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Honoring victims, calling for a system that heals

Tamika Darden-Thomas with her father

On September 25, in honor of National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims, I spent time reaching out to several family members of murder victims. Some survivors shared the traditions they have developed over the years to mark the day, including visiting burial grounds or viewing commemorative videos and photographs. Others told me that the day was just as difficult as any other day of loss and grief.

For Tamika Darden-Thomas, an African American resident of Newark, New Jersey, sharing her story with others has been a source of great healing, and she was eager to also share it with me.

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