Tuwanna Anderson understands the horrors of gun violence. On Feb 14, 2010, Tuwanna, who became a mother at the age of 14, lost her firstborn son, Malik James, in a tragic shooting that redefined her existence. Wrought with pain and devastated by her loss, she grappled, with depression and struggled to find meaning in her life. It wasn’t until she launched the Malik Adam James Foundation that Anderson found the will to move forward, choosing to dedicate her life to preventing the kind of sensless acts that took her son.
The Malik Adam James Foundation is Anderson’s’ ongoing effort to educate children and teenagers about the effects of gun violence and foster empathy and compassion in their communities. Tuwanna works alongside psychologists and therapists to create programs that engage kids and encourage them to process their emotions in a healthy way. “I want to do whatever I can to help” said Anderson, who has begun reaching out to Rockland leaders in order to share her message with students across the county.
Anderson’s seminars are effective thanks to their versatility. Never one to stick to a script, Anderson tailors her message to her audience in hope of connecting with students on an individual level. When working with younger students, she strives to teach understanding. Anderson encourages kids to explain how they feel hurt by other children and discuss their grievances openly and empathically.
With older students she stresses non retaliation. Anderson encourages teens to share their own stories about gun violence and is usually, sadly, inundated with stories similar to her own. “Most of them already know about it” lamented Anderson, who believes that personal connection is more effective than scared straight style prevention programs. When dealing with the older kids Anderson encourages them to think about how violent incidents have impacted their own lives and what they can do to end that cycle of violence. “I want more people to know that they don’t have to retaliate, we need to start looking out for each other.”
Anderson loves being able to connect with the next generation and is always eager to spread her message of cooperation: she’s been invited to speak at Virginia State University, Freeport High School, and Math Science and Technology Institute MS 267 in Brooklyn among others. But that’s not the only effort she has made to improve her community. Anderson has spent $200,000 out of her own pocket to start 50 States 50 Families, an organization that connects those who have lost loved ones to gun violence so that they emotionally support one another. She also formed One More Last Chance, a legal defense fund that works to release wrongfully convicted prisoners. Anderson is excited for the chance to extend her work to Rockland.