Black-and-white headshot depicting Eleuthera Lisch looking up at a source of light.

Beloved: Restoration — a Collective Effort Toward Freedom

Lifelong anti-violence leader carries the torch of freedom by fighting against the disease of gun violence.

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.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, restoration is defined as “the action of restoring a person to a former state or position; the fact of being restored or reinstated.” 

In the context of gun violence, restoration can be described as the process of achieving a sense of innocence that abides in freedom — an innocence that has been violated through encounters that alter an individual’s worldviews. Restoring freedom and trust in communities, advocates believe, requires a collective effort. 

For Eleuthera Lisch, freedom was a call to action from the time she was born. Eleuthera means freedom in Greek. 

“We live up to the principles of our name,” Lisch said. 

For Lisch, the mission to pursue freedom was something her father instilled early on. Lisch’s father was a political activist, serving as a prominent leader in the Puerto Rican Independence Movement. Her life’s work aligns with a legacy her father, and others, have established. She carries a torch passed down to her by the leaders who served in disrupting cycles that interfere with the collective pursuit of freedom. Eventually, she seeks to pass on her torch to the next generation. 

“I’ve worked hard to make room on my shoulders to lift the next generation of leaders, and people who will pick up the torch, to fight against what I call the ‘disease of violence,’” Lisch said. 

Growing up, Lisch contracted the disease of violence due to the nature of her environment. 

“Being born into activism — which put my dad on the front lines of political conflict in Puerto Rico fighting the U.S. Navy, living on a bombing target, being exposed to toxic chemicals as an infant … my little self was in unsafe environments and forced to look at the world through that lens from my earliest memory,” Lisch said. 

Lisch’s process of becoming aware of gun violence was different, yet “that also was part of the way my father instilled me with a sense of mission — which ties to gun violence,” she said. In fact, her earliest awareness of gun violence was an incident that occurred before she was born. 

In 1966, a 16-year-old unarmed male named Matthew “Peanut” Johnson was shot four times by Officer Alvin Johnson in San Francisco. 

“As early as I can remember, I knew who Matthew ‘Peanut’ Johnson was and I knew that a 16-year-old boy was killed by the police and that it started an uprising,” Lisch said. 

At the time, according to BlackPast, this tragedy stirred up one of the largest uprisings in San Francisco since the anti-Chinese riots of 1877. The three-day protest came to be known as the Hunter’s Point Uprising. 

“And I know that as early as I can remember, those were the stories of what my life’s work would become,” Lisch said. 

Twenty-five years later, Lisch would meet her mentor, Dr. Joseph Marshall, in the same neighborhood where Johnson was murdered, she said. 

It was in that same moment she would discover that her mission in life was to serve in disseminating the “prescription” to treat violence. 

“It’s all an awakening you can’t fall back asleep to,” Lisch said. 

The term “disease of violencewas coined by Dr. Joseph Marshall. Lisch credits Dr. Marshall for empowering her through the process of evaluating and furthering the drive to fight for freedom that her father instilled in her. 

An American author, radio talk show host, community-based activist, and mentor, Dr. Marshall founded the youth violence prevention program Alive & Free over three decades ago. At the heart of Alive & Free is the concept that violence is a disease. The “prescription” works to treat destructive actions and feelings that contribute to violent behavior that puts youth in danger. 

Black-and-white photo depicting Eleuthera (second from the left) posing with community members. Cursive text reads "Stay Alive & Free" at the top of the image.
Eleuthera Lisch poses with some community members as part of the Alive & Free program. (Courtesy of Eleuthera Lisch, April 2022)

At the core of the Alive & Free prescription framework are three concepts: First, the Risk Factors — the behaviors that put youth at risk for encountering violence. These factors evaluate social conditioning that youth are often vulnerable to, including destructive language, guns, drugs, valuing material items, and more. According to one study about the impact of media violence among youth, short-term exposure to violence increases the likelihood of physically and verbally aggressive behavior, aggressive thoughts, and aggressive emotions. 

Second, the Commandments of Violence: According to the Alive & Free methodology, these statements are “symptomatic thinking that puts [youth] at risk.” For example, the twelve commandments of violence include “thou shalt be down for thy homies right or wrongz.” These statements mirror principles glamorized in street life culture — and in modern mainstream culture

The third and final core methodology is the Rules for Living. There are four in total, focusing on self-value, accountability, and dignity. 

To fight against the “disease of violence” requires an “understanding that when we look at something through the lens of illness, we take away a matter of blaming people … but understand that there are conditions, social constructs …” that are features of the behaviors one has been exposed to, Lisch said. 

Similar to a disease, one’s worldview is contaminated when in proximity of, or exposed to, violence. Rather than scrutinizing individuals for “contracting” the “symptoms” of violent behaviors, Lisch’s work aims to “treat” those infected with practices rooted in love, empathy, and compassion — with faith that the prescription will empower others to access their highest freedoms. 

“The thing that anchors me is a heart connection to something I think a lot of us who need to be restored understand, because of our earliest encounters with violence and instability,” Lisch said. 

Lisch established the Alive & Free program in Seattle, cocreated an Alive & Free international consortium, worked alongside the Obama administration to combat violence on a national level, and much more. 

“I took the medicine and became unstoppable about giving it away,” Lisch said. 

Her remarkable commitment to sharing the prescription began as a youth worker in the late 1990s — when her students were demanding solutions to a problem that seemed to be too great. Over two decades later, Lisch’s mission remains.

Black-and-white photo depicting John Legend, Bryan Stevenson, and Eleuthera Lisch viewing an object off camera and chatting in a gallery.
(Left to right) Musician John Legend, attorney Bryan Stevenson, and Eleuthera Lisch captured in a photograph. (Courtesy of Eleuthera Lisch, April 2022)

In 2021, King County Executive Dow Constantine and the King County Board of Health declared June 4 King County Regional Community Safety and Well-Being Day due to the rising rate of gun violence. Concurrently, the pilot program King County Regional Peacekeepers Collective (RPKC) was launched. 

At the time, Lisch was asked to consult as part of the collective effort. The idea of putting practitioners together to form a collective is how RPKC was established, she said. 

“I was graced with the opportunity to bring my own experience, and story, through practice into shaping something that is absolutely not mine … it’s an honor because of my mission and my own desire to be of service to the next generation of leaders,” Lisch said. 

Recently, Lisch has joined Public Health – Seattle & King County and King County Zero Youth Detention as a strategic advisor on gun violence prevention and intervention. She’s also the cofounder of the Beloved Anti-Gun Violence Campaign

One can embrace their road to recovery, reach for redemption, and even seek to restore a sense of freedom through collective efforts; nevertheless, we must individually address the disease of violence that contaminates our personal worldview. Knowing where one’s freedom lies individually grants one the grace to contribute to the efforts of freedoms collectively. 

“The idea that somebody else holds our freedom is the saddest thing; we are intrinsically responsible for our freedom and there are oppressors in many forms,” Lisch said. “But wherever you put me, you can’t touch the me in me.”

Chardonnay Beaver is an influential speaker, storyteller, and writer for The Facts Newspaper. Chardonnay partakes in an undergraduate experience at University of Washington. In 2019, she established Words of Wisdom by Char (WOWbyChar): a platform designed to empower individuals in their pursuit of authenticity. To learn more, visit her website.

📸 Featured Image: Eleuthera Lisch (Photo courtesy of Eleuthera Lisch, April 2022).

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