Samari Ladd-Ali in a black chair

Beloved: Recovery & Resilience

by Chardonnay Beaver

Everyone lost to gun violence is someone’s beloved.  Beloved is a multi-media campaign exploring gun violence in-depth in four phases: The Problem of gun violence as a symptom of illness (or infection) caused by systemic inequality; The History of gun violence, root causes, and local and national data trends. The Solutions to end gun violence including King County Public Health’s regional approach to gun violence prevention and treatments; and finally, the ideation of a world without gun violence, The Beloved Community. The Beloved project is brought to you in partnership with Seattle Office of Arts & Culture Hope Corps program, King County’s Public Health team, Converge Media, Black Coffee Northwest, Toybox Consulting, Creative Justice, The Facts Newspaper, Forever Safe Spaces, Northwest African American Museum, Presidential Media, and the South Seattle Emerald.

On the evening of Jun. 18, 2021, Samari Ladd-Ali and boyfriend Jihad Abdul-Haqq were looking forward to seeing one another. It was a casual Friday night when the two met for dinner to catch up. However, this Friday was different from those prior.

As they drove through South Seattle, they stopped at a traffic light at the corner of South Rainier Avenue and South Henderson Street. It was this neighborhood Ladd-Ali referred to as home. 

“South Seattle honestly shaped me into who I am today,” said Ladd-Ali. She recalls walking through the Rainier Beach neighborhood as a student at Dunlap Elementary School. 

However, in a matter of moments, the place she knew as home quickly turned into the site of a life-threatening incident. 

Moments after the couple stopped at the traffic light, they heard gunshots. Abdul-Haqq pulled over, and Ladd-Ali saw that Abdul-Haqq had been wounded — a bullet had struck his hand. The two later discovered that Ladd-Ali had been shot in her side.

An X-ray scan of Samari Ladd-Ali's torso, where the bullet entered
X-ray scans of the bullet that entered the side of Samari Ladd-Ali’s torso in June 2021. Photo courtesy of Samari Ladd-Ali.

“I just remember trying my hardest not to panic,” Ladd-Ali said.

The two screamed for help, getting the attention of bystanders. Those nearby called the police and assisted the couple until the paramedics and police arrived. Using whatever supplies she could find, still in shock, Ladd-Ali covered her wound with a T-shirt. 

Sitting in the parking lot of Rainier Family Dentistry, on the ground, she looked into the sky. 

“When I was on the ground, I felt the most scared and the most safe, because I knew I would get through this. I knew I would survive,” Ladd-Ali said.

She recalls repeatedly thinking, “I am strong, I am brave, I will survive this,” as paramedics rushed her to Harborview Medical Center. Conscious until undergoing surgery, she began to consider all that she had not yet accomplished. 

Samari Ladd-Ali at Harborview Medical Center
Samari Ladd-Ali at Harborview Medical Center in June 2021. Her hands were attached to IV chords, and her mouth and face were partially covered by a medical breathing device. Photo courtesy of Samari Ladd-Ali.

At the time of the incident, Ladd-Ali was an 18-year-old teenager from South Seattle. She’s a little sister to two older siblings and a graduate of Garfield High School and Seattle Central College. Her passion for creating is expressed through fashion, music, acting, and more.

She had recently completed her first year at a four-year university and was optimistic about her future. 

“If I was to die that day, I probably wouldn’t have been satisfied, because I felt like I didn’t finish my purpose,” Ladd-Ali said. 

According to the County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office’s 2021 “Shots Fired” report, King County residents between the ages of 18 and 24 make up the largest group — 28% — of gun violence victims. Ladd-Ali’s experience perpetuates a cycle of violence that surged here in King County last year, where 48% of shooting victims were Black — and where Blacks only constitute 7% of the population

After waking up from emergency surgery at Harborview Medical Center, Ladd-Ali told her nurses, “I can’t do this alone.” 

A relative holds Samari Ladd-Ali's hand, attached to IV cords, at Harborview Medical Center
A relative holds Samari Ladd-Ali’s hand, attached with IV cords, while at Harborview Medical Center in June 2021. Photo courtesy of Samari Ladd-Ali.

Ladd-Ali’s family started a GoFundMe requesting support to alleviate medical expenses. Online and offline, the couple received prayers and support from local community members. While in the hospital, a fellow patient wrote a personalized note to Ladd-Ali, encouraging her to “keep going!” 

Ladd-Ali was forced to undergo a road to recovery she would have never imagined. Being hospitalized during the pandemic made it harder to achieve comfort, she says. Due to the coronavirus, the hospital restricted patients aged 18 years and older to one guest per day, according to Harborview Medical Center’s information desk. 

Throughout her hospitalization, Ladd-Ali remained positive, Asia Ali (Ladd-Ali’s sister) says. However, her positivity did not ease the burdens faced on her road to recovery. 

With impaired mobility, she depended on her immediate family and nurses to use the restroom, bathe, and walk. In addition to a kidney removal, she experienced sciatica-like pain in her lower back that lasted for two weeks, Ladd-Ali said. 

“At the time, I did not want to face it — I wanted to get through it,” Ladd-Ali said.

Discharged from the hospital a day before her mother’s birthday, Ladd-Ali’s return home was a gift. She recovered better at home. In fact, for her 19th birthday, she set a goal to be able to walk again, Ladd-Ali said. Within two weeks, after being discharged from the hospital, she reached her goal.

After returning home, she recognized how this incident had begun to shift her perspective of the world around her, Ladd-Ali says. This became evident when having to explain to friends and family the major transition she had undergone. 

In an article published by the American Psychological Association, the author discusses the impact of mental health treatment that survivors of mass shootings sought over the long term, in comparison with seeking treatment immediately after the incident — when exposure to the trauma was fresh.

“What helped me was moving forward. Because after that happened, maybe a month or two after that happened, no one was talking about it. Life moves on no matter what,” Ladd-Ali said.

Earlier on her road to recovery, when her mom suggested Zoom therapy, Ladd-Ali says she “avoided it for a while.” Today, however, she says attending therapy sessions has changed her life. Other practices she says have helped her recovery are prayer and reciting affirmations. 

Ladd-Ali recalls moments of emotional distress, “I was angry that it happened to me, honestly, [because] it was just something I never imagined.” Ladd-Ali says her anger was never toward the identified shooter. Instead, she was angry about the factors that contributed to the incident. 

“I was just mad that it happened. I was just mad how it happened. I was just mad [about] why it happened and where it happened,” Ladd-Ali said.

Ladd-Ali’s recovery mindset primarily consisted of being patient with herself, thinking positively, and being hopeful, she says. Despite her successful physical recovery, she began to recognize that her psychological recovery process was far more complex. 

“I realized that my mental [health] was behind and my physical [strength] was ahead,” Ladd-Ali said.

Listening to Ladd-Ali, it became clear that resilience and recovery are not about being healed. Healing is a journey — the journey of how one encountered trauma and endured pain. Survivors learn to embrace the fact that they lived through what they once deemed unimaginable. 

Samari Ladd-Ali posing for a photo shoot
Samari Ladd-Ali poses in a pink dress for a picture during a photo shoot with Seattle-based photographer Maurice Harnsberry (“Moebetta”), 2022. Photo courtesy of Samari Ladd-Ali.

Ladd-Ali’s decision to embrace such trauma motivates her to tell a story many didn’t survive to share. 

“Embracing is more important than rising above it,” Ladd-Ali said. “Because if you can embrace it, you can soar above it — not just rise.”

Chardonnay Beaver is a multimedia storytelling, influential speaker and writer. Her stories center the lived and historical experiences of minoritized communities in America, in a nuanced way. Her articles has been featured in Crosscut, The Facts Newspaper, The Seattle Medium to name a few. Chardonnay is a recent graduate of the University of Washington, earning her degree in political science and journalism & public interest communication and minor in diversity studies. To learn more, visit her website.

📸 Featured Image: Samari Ladd-Ali sitting in a black chair posing for a picture during a photo shoot with Seattle-based photographer Maurice Harnsberry (“Moebetta”), 2022. Photo courtesy of Ladd-Ali.

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