After suffering the devastating loss of his youngest son, Jeron Grayson, who was shot and killed in 2010 while attending an off-campus party near California University by a 19-year-old who was mad about being denied access to the party, Rev. Glenn Grayson has turned his tragedy into a testimony.
Since his loss, he has dedicated himself and his work to preventing others from feeling the same pain he and his family have experienced due to gun violence.
His work has not gone unnoticed. On April 3, Rev. Grayson, pastor of Wesley Center AMEZ Church in the Hill District, along with eight others, was recognized by President Barack Obama as a Gun Violence Prevention “Champion of Change” for his work through the church’s Center That C.A.R.E.S., as well as with other gun violence prevention organizations. According to the White House Press Office, Champions of Change was established under the Obama administration and highlights individuals doing extraordinary things to empower, inspire and support member of their communities.
“It was just an honor to be selected, I heard there were 400 nominees. It was a good experience. The panel of other honorees were pretty impressive as well, in age and work,” Rev. Grayson said of his trip to Washington, D.C. “I am grateful yes, but no award can replace Jeron. But he said he was going to take C.A.R.E.S. global and we honor that. It’s a heavy heart time, but a lifting of the heart time as well.”
Although, Rev. Grayson was at the White House for his recognition, he also convened with other honorees, experts and politicians to discuss gun violence. The day included several panel discussions; personal accounts from individuals who lost someone due to gun violence; sessions that discussed the topics of guns and women, guns and faith, guns and mental health, and guns and youth; followed by a talk with Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to President Obama, and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.
“I think society has taken a new look at gun violence. Strangely we’ve been through this (losses of life due to guns) over the years as African-Americans; but since the Sandy Hook case, the Aurora, Colo., (movie theater) shooting and some of the bigger mental health alleged connected cases of gun violence, it seems to have compelled legislative bodies who are effected to take a different look at this thing,” Rev. Grayson said. “There is a need to continue to share ideas and best practices and how suburbia and urban (communities) can collectively work together.”
Reverend Grayson, who has been in the ministry for approximately 30 years and pastor of Wesley Center for 18 years, founded the Center that C.A.R.E.S. (Children/Adults Recreational and Educational Services), a nonprofit that mentors to youth in an effort to prevent them from gangs and gun violence, in 2000 and now serves approximately 125 children. The center is currently in the last phase of its renovation project of the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center. They continue to try to raise funding to make sure the center will be sustained for years to come.
He said that after school enrichment programs like C.A.R.E.S. can never be viewed as non-essential and that its his drive to make sure the community center becomes a reality so that they can enhance the lives of vulnerable youth to come, which propels him.
“Addressing gun violence can’t be an isolated effort, we can’t just lift up one (group). As a city, we need to concentrate on a way to collectively get our own people to the table for a summit to see how we can reduce the ‘March madness’ of 15 out of 20. Not that we can stop it, but if we can say ‘next year eight in March, then next year four and the next year two. It’s going to take a lot of intentional work to help the reduction,” Rev. Grayson said.
And to reduce it, he said it’s going to take job opportunities; a push in the education system, getting our youth Pittsburgh Promise ready so that they can take advantage of the benefits and getting them out of school and to the next step, whether it be higher education or learning a trade; over looking the check the box and being forgiving in certain past criminal background; and a look at the mental health issue.
“Anyone can take a gun and shoot someone, and many will say that’s a mental health issue, but to shoot someone in front of a camera, where there is a possibility you’re gonna get caught, there’s no question it’s a mental health issue of disparity, hopelessness and lack of option,” Rev. Grayson said.
Along with his work through the Center that C.A.R.E.S., Rev. Grayson also works with CeaseFire PA and serves as the PA Interfaith Impact Network’s president emeritus.
“We at PIIN are delighted the nation has gotten at glimpse at what we already know. He is a tireless advocate for the improvement of communities and lifting the futures of young African-American particularly. Well done!” said Rev. Richard Freeman pastor of Resurrection Baptist Church in Braddock and PIIN president.
According to Rev. Grayson, the average number of individuals in America who lose their life per day to gun violence is 33. He added, if it doesn’t change, gun violence will become the number one cause of death over accidents.
When asked if he feels gun violence has decreased since his son’s death, he said with emotion in his voice, “In some ways it hasn’t changed enough because, again, a bullet went through a door and took the life of a 10-year-old. So my mind goes there. She’s inside her house, innocent and a bullet takes her life.
(She was) 10, which is almost half of Jeron; so, in some ways it doesn’t change and that’s the frustration. In other ways I know I have to work hard to reduce that number of phone calls to the next parent. That’s a call I wouldn’t wish on any parent.”
Although he feels there has not been enough to address the gun violence epidemic in America, Rev. Grayson said he is glad to see that more people are taking a vested interest in the task.
“To see Caucasians from Squirrel Hill as vested as a Black mother from Garfield, who lost two kids, working collectively, it’s moving and powerful.”
While Rev. Grayson is humbled by the honor, he says that it’s through the support of his immediate family, his staff and his church that he is able to do what he does. “They called my name, but if it had not been for the support of them, none of this would be possible. This is not a solo effort.”
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