Blog Entry Capacity Building, Culture of Safety

July 2016 Member Spotlight: Dr. Robert Gore— Building Kings (and Queens) in Brooklyn

In cities and communities across America, violence continues to be one of the greatest threats against Black youth. For Dr. Robert Gore, who is an attending physician and clinical assistant professor at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, New York, violence is more than just a threat, but a disease that, if left untreated, will continue robbing young people of their futures.

In response to the violent trauma he witnessed in the ER on a daily basis, Dr. Gore founded the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), a hospital and school-based youth violence intervention, prevention and empowerment program. Through KAVI, Dr. Gore and his team are providing meaningful support to help teens develop their conflict-resolution skills and seek out safer alternatives to violence. 

For our July member spotlight, the Campaign for Black Male Achievement spoke with Dr. Gore (who was recently profiled as one of Black Enterprise's BE Modern Men) about his background, how KAVI is helping young people constructively deal with violence and trauma, and his own personal self-care regimen.

Dr. Gore, can you share with us about your background, as well as what inspired you to become engaged in this important work?

Dr. Gore: I grew up in Brooklyn in the 80’s and 90’s. After I left Brooklyn, I moved to Atlanta to attend Morehouse College for Undergrad, and then SUNY Buffalo for Medical School.  After that, I went on to Chicago to work at Cook County Hospital.

Growing up in Brooklyn and then moving to Atlanta in the early-90’s and on to Buffalo, we saw a lot of issues as it relates to violence. In the 80’s and 90’s we had the crack cocaine era, and whether you were involved in street life or just a by-stander, you were affected by it because you saw violence all around you. Being a medical student and also spending time in hospitals, I started seeing a lot of patients coming in that were affected by violence and penetrating trauma.

Recognizing the patterns and looking at a lot of violence, you realize there’s got to be a point where this has to stop, so you start looking at different practices. I started doing a lot of research specifically on violence intervention when I was at Cook County, looking at different violence intervention programs out there and looking at violence not just as a public health issue, but also exploring a best-practices approach to what could be done.

How did you come to launch the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI)?

Dr. Gore: When we started putting all of the pieces together to develop KAVI, it was in response to making sure that we didn’t have more young men and young women of color coming into the emergency department brutally injured for something that was purely avoidable. Back in 2009 I launched a summer program for minority medical and premed students who had an interest in emergency medicine, to help increase and improve mentoring among young medical students of color. We wanted to focus on project development and the first project that we were charged to work with was developing a hospital and school-based violence intervention program, looking at both traditional and non-traditional models and adding in some creative practices, which is how KAVI was created.

We launched programming in 2011 and had been trying to apply for funding for a number of years but were turned away. Part of it was because when you’re still a theoretical program, it’s hard for people to invest in what you do when they can’t really see what it is. After being turned away from different funding sources, we started looking at how we could acquire resources that didn’t look like regular resources. From there we wound up starting a volunteer-based program, which we still are, but we’re very happy to now have at least one full-time staff member and a number of very dedicated part-time staff members.

In addition to accepting individual donations through your website, does KAVI utilize foundational support?

Dr. Gore: We’ve been fortunate to receive support through the New York Mayor’s Fund, as well as the Fund for New York Health and Hospitals (HHC) and Guns Down Life Up, which is part of the same office as The Fund for HHC. We’ve received support from The Pinkerton Foundation and The Wellmet Group as well. KAVI also has a host of volunteers and community partners that have donated in-kind contributions to ensure we were able to keep our program up and running.

In addition, the support that we get from the Campaign for Black Male Achievement’s initiative with Catchafire has been great, as we’ve been able to get in-kind support around structural systems that we’re trying to put into place.  We also benefitted from the #BMAGive campaign, where we were able to raise funds and Crowdrise has agreed to continue to support us.

What are some of the most common risk factors that the youth in your program are dealing with?

Dr. Gore: Many of the young people we work with are dealing with emotions on so many different levels. Our young people have dealt with depression, violence in the home, and mental health issues. They don’t have a home environment that’s safe, or regular meals unless they get them at school.

One young guy we worked with was living in a homeless shelter with his Mom, Stepdad and sisters. He said, “Dr. Gore, I don’t know that to do. My Mom is getting beat by my stepdad and it happens in front of me and my little sisters, and I don’t like that. But if I say something then my sisters are going to grow up in a house without a father like I did.” It was such a powerful thing for a 15 year old to articulate, and these shouldn’t be the kinds of decisions you’re trying to make at that age.

In what ways are you evaluating the success and efficacy of your work?

Dr. Gore: We’ve been bringing on students from SUNY Downstate’s School of Public Health to work with us as paid staff members, in addition to volunteering their time and resources. They’re helping us develop assessment tools, both for quantitative and qualitative data, measuring graduation rates, looking at demerits, but also looking at how the students are feeling and how they deal with conflict. When you’ve got a student who can not even just quote you but is also able to run a workshop, then I think we’re heading in the right direction because now we’re empowering people to be able to pass this torch on for them to become change agents. 

For example, this summer we’re very happy to be partnering with a number of community-based organizations that have high school students coming for summer youth employment. The students are going to be working in the hospitals at SUNY Downstate and Kings County as part of their summer youth employment, but the first half of their day will be spent doing workshops focusing on peer leadership and restorative justice so that they’re in a better position to one day run the workshops. You’ve got to have the participant also be the messenger – it can’t just come from the outside. We have to make sure that the young people we work with have the tools to continue doing the work and spreading the mission.

What are some of your own self-care practices to deal with the trauma you’re also faced with everyday as a hospital physician?

Dr. Gore: That is a huge thing that we’re starting to address amongst our staff, and personal wellness is something that I’ve been more conscious of, particularly my diet. I’ve seen a therapist periodically, especially since last year when one of my mentees was killed. He was a good friend that I grew up on the block with and who was working with KAVI. When he passed I took it hard and I had a really tough time going back to work in our critical care and trauma area because that’s where he was brought in. He died in a hospital that he was working in. So it was important that I really learn to take a step back.

I also exercise regularly – probably three to five times a week -- and I meditate almost everyday.  I do martial arts. It’s also important that I get a chance to break away from all of the trauma and the city, so getting out into the natural elements is also restorative. The more that health and wellness become not just something you do when you’re stressed out, but a part of your regular routine then it becomes a lifestyle.

How can CBMA members support KAVI’s broader vision and mission?

Dr. Gore: Funding is always an issue in the non-profit sector, because you need resources to make things run. So it’s helpful to have people who can assist us with funding opportunities and, if those are unavailable, can assist us with training for everything from wellness, to grant-writing, to financing. We need people to help co-facilitate workshops for our students. Support on social media, as well as workshop and infrastructure development is also important. We want to make sure that KAVI is something that’s highly viable, highly successful, and in a position to train other people to do the work.

Ultimately, I want the young people we work with to have greater access to opportunities -- whether it’s educational, entrepreneurial or business. I want them to become change agents, because I want to pass this torch on. If I’m doing the same thing 20 years from now in the same capacity, that means that we haven’t done our job.

To learn more and find out how you can support the Kings Against Violence Initiative, visit www.kavibrooklyn.org. You can also follow them on Twitter at @KAVI_Brooklyn.

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