Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO, progressive pediatrics blog

Priscilla Brown lost her teen son to gun violence. Now she’s working to save other people’s sons.

I’d like you to meet Priscilla Brown. Her mission is breaking cycles of violence in our community. She created two groundbreaking programs in Minneapolis that work to divert teens and men away from gun violence. 

Gun violence is the #1 killer of children in our country. But that’s just one reason Priscilla is working to end it. She also has a very personal reason, which she explains in her own words. 

Priscilla Brown, MA, marriage & family therapist

Priscilla Brown’s words

Priscilla Brown: I’ve been personally involved in the issue of gun violence for 33 years. It started in 1989 when my son, Lamont Smith, was murdered. I was thrust into it that way. Lamont was 19 when he died. He’d be 53 today. It amazes me that in 33 years, nothing has changed. It has just gotten worse.

After the traumatic experience of losing my son, my life took a downward spiral. I could not even breathe. The only way I could deal with the trauma was to mask it with drugs. I was also selling drugs to cover the cost of my drug use. I got caught and spent 18 months in prison. Before that, I’d never even had a parking ticket. I was a law-abiding citizen. I had a four-year college degree. I was in the insurance industry, on the fast track to becoming a general manager. If I were white, I would’ve gotten treatment and probation. At the same time, I’m grateful for my sentence. It forced me to look at my pain and get treatment, therapy and a road to healing. I’m 32 years clean. I got my master’s degree in family therapy in 2003.

Today, I’m a program director at a nonprofit called Urban Ventures where I run Pathway to New Beginnings, a gun diversion program I designed and implemented five years ago. It’s the first gun diversion program in Minneapolis for adults and there are only five others like it in the country.

Pathway’s goal is to reduce recidivism by addressing the needs of people who are charged with a gross misdemeanor for carrying a gun illegally. We help them identify and change their faulty thinking, gain skills to regulate emotions and develop coping skills to deal with traumatic experiences.

Pathway is part of the what’s called a “de-carceration” project. All states are looking at gun crimes and considering who should be penalized with prison or not. Every state has different laws. If you’re a non-violent, first-time offender caught with a gun and no permit in Minnesota, you’re charged with a gross misdemeanor which carries a jail sentence of one year. If you decide to participate in Pathway to New Beginnings, you get 24 months of probation instead. One year after you complete the program, the crime is expunged from your record.

Alongside Pathway to New Beginnings, over the last two years I have also directed a program for 15–19-year-olds called the Nehemiah Program. The program, a partnership with Hennepin County Juvenile Probation, is currently being renegotiated and Urban Venture’s partnership with Hennepin County Juvenile Probation will continue in the near future.

Participants came to the Nehemiah program from juvenile probation. The program was designed for young men who are charged with carrying guns without a permit and those whose crimes are a result of a traumatic experiences. The goal of the Nehemiah Program was to help the young men manage anger, to learn ways to regulate emotions, and to understand and identify how trauma causes disruption in their worldview.

Trauma affects the brain. When we talk about looking at gun violence as a public health crisis, this isn’t an excuse, but so much of it is happening by and to young people who have been traumatized from the womb. This is a mental health crisis as well. We need families to be part of the healing process, so we bring them in. We find out what their needs are so we can provide mental health resources. This starts in the home. Often parents are very young when they have children. Their children are raising themselves. Their brains are young and traumatized.

In my time working to end gun violence, I’ve learned that the solution is not going to come from one place in our community. We need everybody. Every organization needs to come together to solve this issue.

Priscilla couldn’t save her son. But by working with men and teens who have illegal guns, she may be saving other people’s sons.   

Thank you, Priscilla. 

And like Priscilla says, it’s going to take all of us to end this public health crisis, including health systems like Children’s Minnesota. 

What Children’s Minnesota is doing to end gun violence

We’re working on several fronts, inside our walls and out in the community.

Next Step

We’ve recently started participating in a violence intervention program called Next Step. Next Step facilitates in-hospital interventions with patients who are victims of gun violence, providing them support while they’re recovering in the hospital and after they leave. Like Priscilla’s programs, the goal is to interrupt the cycle of recurring violence.

An open letter to Minnesota lawmakers

More than 160 pediatric providers from health systems statewide have joined Children’s Minnesota in urging Minnesota lawmakers to take further action to prevent gun violence. Read their open letter here.

Dr. Marc Gorelick

Marc Gorelick, MD
President, chief executive officer

Marc Gorelick, MD, is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) at Children's Minnesota. He is deeply committed to advocacy issues that impact children's health, sustainability and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

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Julianna Olsen