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Christine Goggins Addresses the Closing Plenary

Christine Goggins addresses the Closing Plenary at the 2023 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago, USA. The Closing Plenary was sponsored by The Fetzer Institute.

To the distinguished guests of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, to my fellow Chicagoans and to this nation, I am honored to share space with you all today. I address you equally in gratitude and grief. 

Sixteen years ago, I lost my best friend Blair Delaine Holt to gun violence. Sixteen years ago, I devoted my life to anti-gun violence advocacy. Sixteen years ago, I began to deeply question how do I use my voice and my influence for justice and peace? I urge each of you to take the same just stand. 

We as a nation have to prioritize humanity. We have to interrogate the falsehoods and misconceptions about personal safety that promotes gun violence as the preferred method of conflict resolution.

Gun violence is a public health crisis that needs the utmost attention. Violence has plagued this country since its founding. It’s always been the American way. Gun violence is now the leading cause of death for all children and the leading cause of suicidal deaths for black children. This is unacceptable. Our children do not deserve this. We do not deserve this. This is not a you problem. This is not a they problem. No one is immune to gun violence. This is an American problem. Every human life is precious. The blood being spilled in our streets is liquid gold. We have lost our way into devalue human life so greatly. 

In May of 2018, my passion for advocacy and my career aligned when I joined the violence recovery program at the University of Chicago Medicine. The violence recovery program is a hospital-based intervention program that supports victims and their families impacted by violent injury. We engage patients during admission and post-discharge to promote comprehensive recovery and reduce reinjury risk. We do this by providing trauma-informed care in the crisis intervention space when the patient arrives to the hospital from the scene where they were injured.

We address safety concerns, provide medical updates or death notifications to the patient’s next of kin. We work with our internal teams and community partners to provide case management to the patients and link them to resources they will need to make a comprehensive recovery.

The hospital-based intervention model is still in its infancy, but research shows that this model is effective for helping patients in the golden hour or in the immediacy after injury where someone is likely to make change. We have to continue to do more research about the beliefs around gun violence and gun culture. We have to look at the effects of injury and interventions over time to really understand. We have to implement evidence-based practices and practice-based evidence. 

Most importantly, we have to uplift the voices of the survivors and those at highest risk of injury. They have the answers. Some cases haunt me while others give me hope. Every day that I’ve sat in a family consultation room to give a medical update or a death notification, it takes me back to the day Blair passed away when I was sitting in a hospital waiting room hoping and praying that he will pull through. I’ve since supported hundreds of patients and their loved ones through the worst moments of their lives. Hope and justice have transformed me as much as I have over the 16 years that I’ve been in this fight.

I do not have the answers. In fact, I probably have more questions than anything. My heart breaks because this fight is so complex. We have such a long way to go to identify all the solutions. We have to have frank and accurate conversations about how systemic racism in this country has created the dire conditions ripe for violence. 

Chicago is a city long plagued by racial violence and segregation, which are both still alive and well in policy and practice. My sweet Chicago has seen the largest housing, school, and mental health facility closures in the nation. Disinvestment and displacement have maintained the oppressive systems and gross lack of resources and opportunities. People are lacking basic human needs. The most foundational being housing. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that until basic needs are met we cannot address the complexities of human experience, including radical love and self-actualization. 

People are dying every day in this country to feel safe and protected. This is not the behavior of a developed nation. In the fifties and sixties, motor vehicle crashes were the leading cause of deaths for Americans. The public health approach worked to significantly decrease the number of automobile deaths with interventions, including driver education, safety equipment in cars and mass public reminders about safe driving. This approach works. And it can help decrease gun violence.

We have to take the blame away from the individual and address the context. All of the factors, the system as a whole that leads to violence. We are in a state of emergency, but I believe that peace is possible. It may not happen in my lifetime, but I know that the work that I am doing will contribute to the cause. I’ll leave you all with the call to action to figure out how you can be a part of the solution.

Create brave spaces where you discuss power and privilege and the harm it causes and the healing that it could create. Educate yourselves on your beliefs and the beliefs that are different from yours regarding guns and gun violence. Urge your public officials and lawmakers to enact common-sense gun legislation. Most importantly, remember the names of those killed from gun violence like my best friend Blair and the bereaved loved ones left here to mourn.

Help us to honor their memories by creating a world for everyone that does not have the looming threat of gun violence. Thank you all and God bless.

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