On Both Sides of the Gun

Erica Ford, Photo credit LIFE Camp, Inc

When hip hop singer Tupac Amaru Shakur was shot six times in his car at traffic lights in Las Vegas, activist Erica Ford’s world was turned upside down.

Ford, 50, met the singer also known as 2Pac back in the 90s. Together, they co-founded The Code, a foundation designed to decrease “black on black” crime and they worked to keep young people out of jail. In 1989, they organized the Million Youth March. “Our foundation bought thousands of young people together from all over the United States to rally against injustices,” she says proudly. After his death, she was crushed.

“At that time I thought I could save the world, I wanted to block him from the evils of the world,” she said in a recent interview, her voice breaking. “When his life was taken I saw tremendous loss.”

She paused then continued, her big brown eyes welling up. “I went through my own healing and transformation,” she said, lowering her voice to a murmur. “I realized I didn’t have to continue with my anger.”

For the last 30 years, Ford has learned to control her anger and direct it toward fighting gun violence by trying to prevent it. She calls her efforts a natural calling.

The head of the South Jamaica Cure Violence program, which attempts to stop violence before it starts, was five years old when her family moved to South Jamaica in 1970. She grew up in the midst of the crack epidemic, witnessing first hand the devastation that guns created in people’s lives.

“I knew so many friends and saw hundreds of people killed from gun violence,” she said. “After a while it was the norm.”

The slim woman recalled how in 1985 a friend of hers was kidnapped and shot while still in her car. “The killers didn’t realize she had a baby in the back seat,” she said, adding that the shooters ended up leaving the baby on the grandparents’ front porch. ,

“Some of the mothers I know, their partners were shot, and they were left alone with four or five children,” she added.

The turning point—and the realization that she might be able to do something about the violence—came for Ford when she was 18 and attended a peace rally. This galvanized her, she said, to become a change maker. Shortly after, she founded the Black Consciousness Youth Movement, aimed at helping New York City students take action against police brutality.

After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, she became a member of President Obama’s task force that provided recommendations to reduce gun violence nationwide. As part of the New York City Task Force to Combat Gun Violence, she supported a bill, sponsored by City Councilmen Ruben Wills and Jumaane Williams, in 2013 that declared violence a public health issue.

As head of the South Jamaica chapter of Cure Violence and as founder of Love Ignites Freedom Through Education, a youth camp, she now leads by example, teaching parents, shooters, victims and children how to cope with their feelings  and to to help them deal with the fall out from gun violence.

“We teach people not to hang on to that anger anymore, that eats you, that ruins your life,” she said.

Her organization encourages participants to receive regular counseling and therapy to help them to heal. The South Jamaica group offers a range of youth programs, including emergency response teams who speed out to shooting scenes to prevent retaliation by the victims’ family and friends, anger management classes, even yoga classes.

“We have to try to understand the people on both sides of the gun,” she said. “They are both human beings, both victims. They both need help because hurt people hurt people.”


Muna Habib