Guiding Lights in Dark Hours: Community Partnership Supports Survivors of Violence
While patients have their most acute care needs met in the hospital, long-term healing often happens closer to home — underscoring the importance of partnerships with community-based organizations. One example of this is the partnership between the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute (LDBPI) and the Brigham’s Violence Intervention and Prevention Programs, whose staff collaboratively deliver compassionate, comprehensive care to patients and families admitted to the Brigham after experiencing community violence.
“In one’s darkest moments — in the midst of the pain of loss and trauma — light often comes from those who rally around us,” said Claire-Cecile Pierre, MD, associate chief medical officer and vice president of Community Health at the Brigham. “It is when partnerships transform into a community of support that we — the Brigham, LDBPI and others — can together provide critical guidance through the complex aftermath of community violence. We are incredibly fortunate to have LDBPI’s leadership and partnership in this work.”
In collaboration with the multidisciplinary teams who care for survivors of violence, Brigham staff in the hospital’s Center for Community Health and Health Equity work with patients and their loved ones through the center’s Violence Recovery Program (VRP) and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Trauma Team (JPNTT) to begin the process of physical, emotional and spiritual healing in the aftermath of violence.
Aiming to assist with long-term recovery and prevent readmission, VRP and JPNTT advocates Dana Jackson, Rahsaan Peters, Sade Smith and Lily Stern support patients through crisis intervention and trauma response; communication with family and connection to resources; safety planning and after-care plans; advocacy within the legal, employment and education system; and warm referrals to organizations such as LDBPI.
Determined to honor and carry on their son’s legacy, Joseph and Clementina Chéry established LDBPI in 1994 after their 15-year-old son, Louis, was killed in a crossfire shootout in Dorchester on his way to a Teens Against Gang Violence meeting. Leaving the hospital with no resources or roadmap, his parents sought to transform support for survivors of homicide victims in Boston.
“People need to know what comes next,” said Alexandra Chéry Dorrelus, LDBPI’s co-executive director and Louis’ sister. “They need to have somebody guiding them all the way through, and they need to know that something happened that was totally outside of their control and that the control is in their hands now moving forward — and that there is a path forward.”
LDBPI worked with the City of Boston to develop best practices for supporting those who have lost a loved one to homicide. In addition to implementing this model locally with partners such as the Brigham, LDBPI staff have trained other community organizations across the country on these practices.
Within 24 to 72 hours after a family experiences homicide, VRP introduces the family to LDBPI staff and support starts immediately. From helping families bury their loved one and ensuring they know essential, acute information such as their detective, police liaison and court advocate, to engaging them in various longer-term supports, LDBPI guides families with care, expertise, respect and transparency.
Critical to their work is building trust, explained Lawrence Stevenson, LDBPI’s survivor support coordinator.
“A family’s ability to trust is broken at the same time they are being asked to trust all these systems, so we have to go above and beyond to develop that trust, keep our commitments and be transparent,” Stevenson said. “Knowing that this is because families have been victimized and have such a loss of control, it’s important that we’re always putting the control back in our family’s hands. In this field, we have adopted this idea of making sure we’re trauma-informed — and that’s important — but you also have to be survivor-centered as well.”
‘A Guardian Angel’
Describing LDBPI as “a guardian angel,” Rahsaan Peters, the Brigham’s VRP coordinator, works closely with the organization to support patients and its work.
“They’re No. 1 when it comes to homicide support,” said Peters, explaining it is critical to “support LDBPI, whether that’s following its lead, bringing a referral, volunteering there or whatever it may be to make sure I show support to them and to the family.”
Similarly, LDBPI staff emphasized the value of their partnership with VRP and the Brigham.
“We are absolutely shifting culture together,” Chéry Dorrelus said. “Rahsaan has been a part of our providers network from the very beginning and is one of the few people who can walk around and tell the full history of homicide response in Boston.”
VRP’s partnership with LDBPI has extended beyond supporting patients and has benefitted the larger Brigham community as well. For example, by connecting Brigham’s Stepping Strong Injury Prevention Program with LDBPI, Peters helped facilitate a recent “Lunch and Learn” event, where Brigham staff heard from LDBPI and other local leaders about their work and ways in which the hospital can support those who have experienced community violence.
LDBPI’s advocacy at the state level has also resulted more equitable victims’ compensation and the establishment of a Survivors of Homicide Victims Awareness Month, observed Nov. 20–Dec. 20, in Massachusetts.
“After the Lunch and Learn, multiple Brigham employees expressed how much they learned and valued the event,” said Molly Jarman, PhD, MPH, program director of the Stepping Strong Injury Prevention Program. “The Lunch and Learn has served as a jumping-off point for further collaboration with LDBPI, including supporting the Mother’s Day Walk for Peace and Homicide Awareness Month. We look forward to continuing to build on this work.”
VRP, JPNTT, Stepping Strong and LDBPI see this type of education, advocacy work and collaboration as key to bringing more people into the conversation to achieve long-term change.
“The Mother’s Day Walk for Peace is a fantastic way for the Brigham community to support the Louis D. Brown Peace Institute and visibly affirm our commitment to community safety,” said Bernard Jones, EdM, vice president of Value-Based Care, Public Policy and Administrative Operations at the Brigham. “All of us hope for a day when violence prevention and response is no longer necessary. Until that day comes, though, our patients and our neighbors need these important partnerships.”
To join the Brigham’s Mother’s Day Walk for Peace Team, click here.
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