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Featuring Keenon James


Narrative Healing's core belief? Stories are healers meant to be shared, not shelved. Welcome to Glimmers of Hope, our new monthly series featuring inspiring storytellers on the move and in the world. We hope these inspire you to share your stories off the page and into the world.


A few years ago, I had the opportunity to offer a Narrative Healing workshop at a retreat for one of Everytown Gun Safety's Survivor chapters in Chicago called Purpose Over Pain, along with Shelly Tygielski and Justin Michael Williams. This experience was unforgettable, inspiring, and profound in ways that have shaped every aspect of Narrative Healing. In this hour-long program I witnessed how sharing our truth from the heart heals wounds and inspires action, and perhaps most importantly, I experienced the power of a loving community to transform stories of pain into stories of healing connection.

Everytown Gun Safety is at the forefront of gun safety activism in this country, tirelessly working to create a safer environment for all. Their dedication, combined with the support of volunteers across the nation, has led to unprecedented victories against the powerful gun lobby.

One key element that drives Everytown's success is the art of storytelling. It plays a fundamental role in their mission, allowing them to connect with individuals on a deeper level and invoke meaningful change.

Recently, I had the privilege of participating in a conversation with Keenon James, the director of the survivors network, hosted by Susan McPherson, author of The Lost Art of Connecting, for an insightful conversation about their work. We delved into the importance of community building to heal from collective trauma, touching on the incredible resilience and strength displayed by gun violence survivors.

I wholeheartedly encourage you to spread the word about the Everytown Survivor Network, an organization that continues to make a difference in the fight for gun safety. If possible, consider making a donation to support their cause – every contribution counts.

This interview with Keenon James is a testament to the power of community, collective healing, and the role of storytelling in addressing the emotional scars of trauma. Everytown Gun Safety, Survivor chapters, gun safety activism, and the incredible work of individuals like Keenon James are all interconnected pieces in the puzzle of positive change.

Read on for an excerpt from our conversation. You can watch the entire replay of our conversation in our Studio Community. More details below. 

With Gratitude,


Q: What is the difference between individual trauma and community trauma?

A: Individual trauma focuses on a person’s lived experience. My personal experience is having my brother taken by gun violence. That’s my individual trauma and what I’ll take on as myself. When I think about community trauma, I think about the neighbors that we have. We lived in a cul-de-sac in the community, so there were five other houses. My brother and the next door neighbor were best friends, so now his best friend has lost his friend. My brother helped cutting the lawn at the other neighbor's house. Now, they lost the young man they saw every day who they saw every day who cut their lawn. And so, everyone is having some kind of effect. It’s how everyone is impacted and it conjures up emotions.


Q: What is the difference between trauma and grief?

A: Trauma is an event and something you can pin point to a specific instance. Grief is emotions and emotions that you move through. It is a process and it doesn’t have a time table either. Everyone’s process of grieving is different.


Q: How can storytelling help heal trauma?

A: Storytelling is a very critical piece of the work I do with the survivor network. It anchors each one of our survivors. They all have a story. The way we use it is as part of emotional release therapy. It helps to get rid of the anger, sadness, depression or guilt that lives there. Storytelling helps you release. It can help with grieving and it can help develop motivation. It’s an opportunity to bring your loved one into the present, which is so powerful and so therapeutic.


Q: How do you guide people on what to share and what not to share?

A: In our storytelling model we first write it all out, we get it all down on paper and get down all the details. Then we take that model to a shorter version. How do you tell your story in two minutes? How do you tell your story in one minute? How do you tell your story in thirty seconds? Because there are many opportunities for us in our storytelling and in our advocacy work, sometimes we have five minutes and you can share your whole story, but sometimes you’re pressing upon an organization or community or legislature and you have thirty seconds to make an impression on them. What we try to do is teach people to know their audience, know who they’re speaking to. Understanding what you’re trying to convey that’s most important. Some details matter, but they may not get your message across. And that’s what we really try to emphasize, what is your message, what do we want someone to leave with. Sometimes if you get into the details that’s what someone retains, they may miss the message because they retain a detail that is just so unexpected for them to hear. You tell your story, it’s your lived experience, but when people leave the conversation, what do you want them to remember.


About Keenon James, Director of the Everytown Survivor Network:

Keenon James is a gun violence survivor himself — in 1993, his brother, Sean, was shot and killed in Takoma Park, Maryland. Prior to joining Everytown, James served as Deputy Director of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) where he led the organization's policy research, communications, community engagement, and training teams. In his prior role at the U.S. Department of Justice's Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS), James managed implementation of a national 21st Century Policing report including the Collaborative Reform Initiative team responsible for conducting nationally recognized training and technical assistance to law enforcement agencies. He regularly collaborated with local law enforcement agencies to assess the organization's culture, community engagement plans, diversity and inclusion, and trust building with community groups and stakeholders.
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