My niece, Jackie, and both of her children, Gianna and Giovanni, were murdered in their home in 2019, in an act of family annihilation committed by Jackie’s boyfriend of 13 years. Naturally, we were all devastated.
As I began to share Jackie’s story, so many people came to me saying, “Oh my God, I was in a situation like that.” I heard how other peoples’ worlds had been shattered by domestic violence and gun violence — how their families had been torn apart, and how they didn’t know how to pick up the pieces.
How does this happen? What could have been done? I started to educate myself. When I learned that access to a gun makes an abuser significantly more likely to kill his female partner, it flipped my world upside down. If some background checks had been done, if he had not had access to that gun, Jackie and the children could still be here.
With simple policies put in place, things could be so different. Our lives could look different; our news headlines could look so different.
I started speaking up. Amplifying my voice, and Jackie’s voice through me, really turned people’s ears. “You know what? You’re right,” they’d tell me. “Gun violence is an issue here.”
While volunteering with local domestic violence organizations, I saw a disconnect in the services for the survivors. One day a very young lady at a shelter broke down, crying on my shoulder, saying, “I might as well just go back because I don’t even have gas to get to work.” She was willing to go back to a person who was abusing her, just so that she would not have to beg for gas money.
I gave her money out of my own pocket. I understood that there were shelters and advocates, for sure, but there weren’t funds set aside for immediate needs. I thought about my niece: Did she try to leave, and it was just too hard?
That was the day that I decided something had to be done.
Our 3 Memorial Foundation was born in February of 2020 out of my pain and my desire to not see anybody else feel that pain. We’ve created different programs to provide survivors of abuse with financial assistance, crisis services, and safety advocacy that foster independence and encourage complete separation from their abusers. For example: we know that survivors often leave their abusers in the middle of the night — their only time to get away — with nothing. A lot of times they’re also being financially abused. They don’t have $30 to spend on gas or on a new ID or birth certificate. We created the Fresh Start Program to provide services and resources that make the transition away less difficult.
A month after Our 3 launched was March 2020, when the pandemic began. I thought: What have I gotten myself into? Where’s the money going to come from, if we can’t get out and fundraise and do all the things that you need to do to run a nonprofit? I tried to remind myself that this was my purpose, that it was destined to be—and it took off! By November 2020, before we had furnished a full fiscal year, we were funded by a major corporation.
In addition to Fresh Start, Our 3 has another initiative where we search public records for convicted perpetrators of domestic violence. We send letters to them, and their parole officers, notifying them that by federal law, they are prohibited from owning a firearm. You never know: Some may think twice about taking a gun if they could go back to jail and serve the rest of their time. We’re also aiming, by the end of the year, to open Jackie’s House: a safe haven for survivors of abuse.
I first connected with Everytown when they came to Jackson, Mississippi, a city near where I live, to do a collection for the National Gun Violence Memorial Project. There were surprisingly few people there, considering that Jackson is known for a lot of gun violence. That gave me the opportunity to speak with the team at length about what goes on in the area, and what I do. From there, I started getting involved.
My advocacy work has carried me on my grief journey; it truly has helped me through some of the darkest times in my life. I’m able to feel without feeling guilty, because I’m around people who have experienced a lot of the same things.
While certain people have lived the impact of gun violence directly, gun violence affects all of us. We need as many people on this side of the fight as possible. Join us.
by Danielle Leverett-Gallaspy, as told to Sarah J. Robbins