LeVar Lawrence spoke those words last week into a microphone at an art gallery on New York’s Roosevelt Island. Lawrence, who was shot in the neck in 2005, was there to perform poetry and spoken word alongside five other gunshot survivors.
The performers are members of OPEN DOORS, an organization under the Angelica Patient Assistance Program, a New York-based nonprofit. The group began as a writing workshop three years ago and now provides men who’ve survived gun violence with mentorship and resources to create art, pursue education, and learn other skills.
From their wheelchairs, wearing hoodies and baseball caps, the men shared stories of death, pain, regret, and resilience. Trace contributor Eric Fernandez was there to capture the performance on video. One speaker, Micah Harris, described himself as a “world-class orator, wheelchair warrior.” Another, Andres Molina, talked about finding his compassionate side.
“We all have something inside from all that pain that we went through,” said Molina. “That stays there.”
More than 100,000 Americans are shot every year. The majority of them survive. Survivors who sustain spinal cord injuries, especially those in wheelchairs, can require a lifetime of treatment. The most common victims of gun assaults are young men of color from economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.
“What you hear in the narrative and in the media is, ‘gun violence leads to death,’” said Dexter Ciprian, a program associate for OPEN DOORS. “But there’s this whole middle place that a lot of people are left in.”
That “middle place” is where many gun violence victims reside.