by Sarah Goh
Two years ago, Lynniah Grayson set out to help marginalized communities navigate the workforce through her new Washington organization Resilient In Sustaining Empowerment (RISE). Seven months later, Grayson experienced a tragedy that changed her life, worldview, and organization’s mission.
Her daughter’s father was murdered in a bar alongside three other people. Grayson’s daughter was just 4 years old at the time.
Grayson sought help for her daughter and searched for consistent resources to support their mental health, emotional needs, and living environment. But she couldn’t find any organizations that offered these specific services.
“There was nowhere for me to turn to,” Grayson said. “And with this tragedy happening in my own home, I knew that I was being called to do something bigger to support my community.”
According to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research study, America’s leading cause of death for Black men 44 years old and younger is homicide. More locally, the 2021 King County Firearm Violence Report revealed that Black people account for 50% of shooting victims in an increasing amount of gun violence every year. Within this data, 85% of these victims were men.
In March 2021, RISE officially shifted its mission to helping “marginalized communities directly impacted by gun violence; vulnerable children; mothers and families.” As founder and executive director, Grayson began to develop a curriculum where she partnered with multiple practitioners and providers who looked like and represented communities that were disproportionately impacted in King County.
RISE became a program that leads cohorts through eight weeks of holistic therapy and activities that help mothers and their children process gun violence. Participants can connect with therapists, nutritionists, and even local artists who specialize in healing through art.
“I consider myself a connector,” Grayson said. “I’m connecting these providers with families who are grieving and who’ve been traumatized.”
The RISE program is especially unique in its focus on children. Grayson says it focuses on not just mothers who are impacted, but the children as well. Previously, RISE only provided child care, but has recently moved to putting a therapist in the room as well. Here, the children can process their emotions and feelings of grief as they connect with each other.
Since March 2021, RISE has seen clear improvement in the mothers and children who are in its cohorts. Surveys measuring mental health, trauma management, understanding of resources, and sense of self are taken by the participants before and after the program. These surveys show that participants experience improvement in mental and social health.
“We’re in our fourth cohort now,” Grayson said. “And we have some moms that have been with us since the first cohort where you can clearly see the difference from the first time they were here.”
For participant Andriel Moore, RISE was helpful in processing the extreme trauma she’d experienced throughout her life. At 12 years old, Moore lost her father to gun violence, and at 18 years old, she was shot twice. Grayson approached Moore in August 2021 at a funeral service for her daughter’s father, who also passed away as a result of gun violence.
“She was very kind,” Moore said. “She gave me her information and told me to reach out when I was ready. So that following week, I joined the group to go rollerskating with the other mothers and kids.”
Since then, Moore has been attending RISE.
“Over the years, I’ve never had an outlet or people to talk to,” Moore said. “So having the group with other women who are dealing with the same things, where we can talk to each other about coping and raising our kids, is very helpful.”
Moore’s daughter has also found an outlet in RISE. Now 5 years old, she has often asked Moore about her father and compared herself to other children at school. At RISE, she’s able to meet other kids who are going through the same experience.
“I’ve witnessed her talking to another girl in the group,” Moore said. “They started chatting about how much they missed their dads, and how great their dads were. … I loved it. I love that she’s able to also have that outlet.”
Since becoming a member of RISE, Moore has especially appreciated the therapy that the program provides.
“Within our community, a lot of people frown upon talking to a therapist,” Moore said. “But it was very helpful and beneficial. I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders after talking to somebody.”
On July 11, 2022, President Biden invited Grayson to the White House to celebrate the passing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
Over $13 billion in federal funding will be spent to address the rising rates of gun violence nationwide. The funding will support crisis intervention and public safety, such as the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline; victims of domestic violence; and stronger laws on illegal fiream purchases. In addition, the act improves existing background checks for juveniles.
“This bill could yield huge benefits for gun survivors in our country who are the most marginalized and underrepresented,” Grayson said. “This is a clear step in the right direction.”
Locally, RISE continues to support women in Washington. Its current cohort consists of 10 women, and the waiting list is long. She hopes RISE is able to find more resources and funding to bring in more women.
“In this country, there are far too many families who are suffering from the traumatic impacts of losing a loved one to the preventable harms of gun violence,” Grayson said. “We will continue to support children and parents who are the most vulnerable, underrepresented, and under-resourced.”
Sarah Goh is a Singaporean American journalist who graduated from the University of Washington with a dual-degree in biology and journalism. At the intersection of community, science, and humanities, she hopes to elevate marginalized voices and explore the overlooked and unexpected through her writing. Find her at sarahsgoh.com or on Twitter @sarahsgoh.
📸 Featured Image: Resilient In Sustaining Empowerment (RISE) helps “marginalized communities directly impacted by gun violence; vulnerable children; mothers and families.” (Photo: Lynniah Grayson)
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