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When Violence Strikes – What We Are Doing To “Change the Culture”

On February 28th, Davon Ellis, a 14 year old freshman at Oakland Technical High School, was shot and killed as he walked with some friends in the 3300 block of Brookdale Avenue. Some might look at the situation in Oakland, where in the past five years 41 youths under the age of 18 have been killed, and say, “That’s just the way it is.” However, in this case, the death of another young person of color struck a raw nerve. “This is not acceptable.”

Sister Marian on set at KQED Newsroom

Sister Marian on set at KQED Newsroom

Catholic Charities of the East Bay’s director of mental health Marian Castelluccio appeared on KQED’s Newsroom the following week. Her message: “These young kids have high expectations…We are failing them. We are not providing the resources for them to meet their expectations.” She went on to explain that we need to break the attitude that their failure is not my problem. “Success of students is a responsibility of all of us. We need to change the culture.”

Instead of casting blame, Sister Marian discussed what Catholic Charities is doing to help change that culture and address the problems.

  • Create school cultures that focus on relationships. Instead of a punitive culture with “zero tolerance” policies, Catholic Charities’ innovative RTIPS (Restorative Trauma-Informed Practices) program helps create restorative justice in schools that focus on building strong relationships. “There is another way to resolve differences … when you develop a restorative practice capacity within the school, they (teachers) do check-ins on Monday morning, they find out what is happening, then they provide emotional support to the student and they (the student) don’t get expelled.” The impact is that in schools where Catholic Charities provides restorative practices, suspension rates are down over 40%.
  • Companion families of victims. When a family member is murdered, there is a “hole in the heart” of the mother, the father, the sister or brother. That loss will not go away, but Catholic Charities’ Crisis Response and Support Network (CRSN) goes to the families where they are. “We companion them. We help take care of the environmental things (like PG&E bills, rent) so that at some point they can grieve… When everything else settles down, we’re going to walk with you, we’re going to be with you for the next year… We hold the hope for you until you can hold it for yourself.” The impact of our crisis response network is that 502 family members are safer and can begin healing from traumatic events in their lives.
  • Addressing youth violence as a community. The Davon Ellis case is a high profile case, but it is important to remember that all lives matter. “What gives me hope… it (youth violence) has been the elephant in the room and now we’re talking about it, it’s out here, it’s out front, it can be addressed and we can work on it together.” Catholic Charities of the East Bay, as collaborative members of Oakland Unite and Healthy Richmond, are part of the civic dialogue. Working with the very people we impact through our RTIPS and CRSN programs, we are developing community and urging civic leaders to explore new ways of addressing the problem.

When tragedies like this repeatedly strike, it is important to ask ourselves: “Might their lives have offered different choices if they had not been raised in this traumatic environment?” We as a society have a responsibility to respond, to enable all who desire, to choose a different life. That is how we impact trauma.