This past Sunday, millions of Americans celebrated Father’s Day. Let us recognize the important role that fathers play, teaching us about responsibility and unconditional love. This year, as every year for the past thirteen, I brought out the photo album so I could tell my son about the father he never knew.
At the tender age of two, my son, Tarique, lost his father to gun violence. Three bullets took Jason Ryans’ life in the woods outside of Wilkes-Barre in 2001. This means Tarique has no memories of his father, only photographs and the stories our family shares when we look at them. Fortunately, Tarique has been blessed with positive, male role models in his life, including my father, who has been a constant presence. But no one can ever replace his biological father.
There are millions of children across the United States who have lost their fathers to gun violence. And, every single day—even on Father’s Day—eight fathers lose their children to the same fate. Richard Martinez, whose only son was killed in the violence in Santa Barbara last month, emphasized the need for our society to take responsibility, saying, “When people talk about their rights, they don’t talk about the responsibilities. They don’t talk about the responsibility to look out for other people. We all need to look out for each other’s children.”
How will we, as a society, take responsibility?
In New York, we have begun by observing June as Gun Violence Awareness Month (GVAM) for the second year in a row. The GVAM resolution, introduced last year by Assembly member Karim Camara and State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson, was the first in the nation to bring proactive, statewide attention to the issue of gun violence for an entire month. In New York City, Councilman Jumaane Williams and myself serve as co-chairs for all the citywide activities.
Gun Violence Awareness Month is bringing leaders from all walks of life together to dialogue about how we can stem the violence. Grassroots community activists—who are often the only thing standing between a finger and the trigger—are taking advantage of the attention generated by GVAM to educate people on how they can help to address this public health crisis. And groups are coming together to raise awareness among our most vulnerable population, our children, with engaging events like the Fathers Against Gun Violence Basketball Tournament.
Gun Violence Awareness Month is just the beginning. We have to take responsibility, every month of the year, until we stop the violence. We can’t depend on our legislators alone. New Yorkers are resourceful and we must come together, as a city, to take action. Together we can find solutions that will serve as a model for the rest of our nation.
With awareness, education and activism, we can turn the tide. Reducing gun violence will never bring my son’s father back to him, but it will mean other children don’t have to spend Father’s Day with photographs.