SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Dewanda Stewart-Joseph has been a community activist her entire adult life.
She grew up in Richmond and is all too familiar with the costly ripple effect associated with gun violence but it wasn’t until about a decade ago, when she lost a nephew in a deadly shooting, that she formalized her advocacy by creating an organization to help others.
KRON4 is featuring Dewanda as a finalist in our series Remarkable Women.
Over the years, Dewanda has accumulated a vast collection of obituaries for people gunned down in the city of Richmond and she says each one not only symbolizes loss but also the unbearable pain connected loved ones left behind are left to mend.
“Most of the things that I try to incorporate are things that I learned growing up with my grandmother. Whenever there was a death in our community, she went to that house,” Dewanda said.
The 2010 shooting death of her nephew Ivan Thompson in El Sobrante inspired Dewanda to join the interfaith and community group Ceasefire Richmond — First helping those committing gun crimes rehabilitate, then shifting to also assisting families who have lost people to gun violence.
She provides access to resources through the group she founded a decade ago, Ya-Neema Healing Circle and Support Services, a space to help people struggling through trauma — stay on their feet and eventually give back to their community.
“When children grow up in this traumatic state, they hear these stories. And, some have grown up to just redo what has already taken place in their life that broke their family system when their dad died, or their mom died. So, in order to try to stop that cycle of violence, we work with the whole family,” Dewanda said.
As an ordained minister and new chaplain for the Richmond Police Department, Dewanda has used her experiences to help hundreds of people and believes the path she has created will have a lasting impact.
“I don’t want the story to end here. I don’t want Dewanda to die, and all this goes away. Someone has to continue the story. (Philippe) Do you believe your work will live on beyond you? (Dewanda) Yes, I’ve some of the younger people that are doing some of the same work in our community. So, yeah, I believe it will carry on,” Dewanda said.
It must, because as she says, “we have to be the change that we want to see in others.”