On July 4, 2013 everything in my world changed. On that night, my 22-year old son, a vivacious, caring, achieving Howard University student, was shot and killed by an armed robber. I went from being merely a diplomat, mother, daughter, sister, and friend to adding the moniker of grief-stricken parent. We have words for children who have lost their parents (orphans), and wives who have lost their husbands, (widows), but none for indicating the status of a parent who has lost a child. Yet few things change one’s life more. In my pain and anger, I went on a search. I searched to gain some understanding about how it could be that my son, who lived from the ages of 5-19 in such ostensibly dangerous places as Nigeria and South Africa, would come home, at last, to America, to be murdered.
I knew from the start, that our family’s tragedy was unfortunately not unusual. Omar was one of thirty thousand or so each year who are murdered in America and one of many thousands more around the world each day. So I requested, and was granted, a sabbatical year of research, writing and activism that began in August 2014. This sabbatical, generously supported by the Uma Chapman Cox Foundation, has enabled me to become engaged in examining the causes and consequences of violence, and then to educate others about strategies to prevent violence in all its forms both at home in America and abroad. This blog space results.
In Mid September, I was joined by five student interns who asked the Department of State for an opportunity to make a difference on the issue of violence. This space is also theirs.
In these first 60 days, I have learned much. I have met inspiring researchers, community activists, my fellow survivors of violence, public servants and other professionals in the field. I have locked arms with numerous new colleagues, and am beginning to heal as a result. I hope this blog space will be useful to them as well.
In its seminal 2002 World Report on Violence and Health, The World Health Organization (WHO) described violence as a public health problem, estimated its scope and magnitude and categorized it into self-directed, interpersonal and collective violence. The WHO called upon the world to do what is possible with all health problems: diminish its prevalence and impact through preventative efforts. More than twelve years later, how have we responded to this call?
This blog space is a partial response to this call, as it aims to provide information on violence in all its manifestations and the ways and means to cure this disease, recognizing that all forms of violence are interrelated.
This space reviews and critiques the available evidence on the scope and negative consequences of violence and delves into proven and promising techniques and methods used to diminish it. We seek to increase our understanding of what makes interventions successful. I hope we will make a difference in the complex and urgent work ahead and welcome your comments, suggestions and contributions.
– Sherry Zalika Sykes, October 2014