Two community leaders sparked conversations about how Fresno State students can help change the escalating gun violence in the Fresno community.
Aaron Foster, one of the speakers, shared how he has been personally affected by gun violence. He and his family were the victims in two separate incidents that claimed the lives of his son and, a couple of years later, his daughter.
These experiences are what helped motivate him to want to build a better community for everyone living in Fresno, according to Foster.
Last Wednesday, Fresno State professor Sudarshan Kapoor welcomed Foster, the program director of Advance Peace Fresno, and B.T. Lewis, senior pastor of the Rising Star Missionary Baptist Church, into his class, both of whom work to provide a safer community.
According to Kapoor, his class talks about peace building in different settings, so his goal in providing this discussion was “to bring real people who have gone through it so that they understand what it means to go through this kind of pain and what it is that we can do.”
Advance Peace Fresno is a program that aims to transform lives and build a safer community by putting an end to gun violence.
Foster explained that the fellowship program that Advance Peace offers works one-on-one with people who are looking to change.
“The thing is we can talk to them, but we can’t make them engage. All we have to do is be available to them if they ever decide to,” Foster said.
The program connects people who have been directly affected by gun violence and are seeking to better their lives through a fellowship program. According to Foster, one of the goals in Advance Peace is to “find people who want to change and give them permission to dream so that they can change.”
In order for Advance Peace to come to Fresno, Foster said that the city first had to buy-in to the program.
“We had to convince the city of Fresno, who has never put intensive care to assist any violent individuals, that this was the right thing to do,” he said.
Now that Advance Peace is working in the Fresno area, Foster said this community needs assistance.
“Unfortunately, in the areas that we serve, especially in southwest Fresno, every single individual is experiencing some type of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” Foster said. “Everybody that lives in the area has to walk past a place where somebody took their last breath, every single day of their lives.”
Lewis told the class that he works alongside the mayor, who was formerly the chief of police for Fresno. This has allowed Lewis to work alongside the police department with the philosophy to “support collaboration in the community.”
Lewis used to be involved in “night walks” before it was halted due to the pandemic.
“The purpose of the walks was to promote peace in our city,” Lewis said.
During night walks, a group of people would meet together and walk the streets of the community where they would meet and pray with people and assess their needs.
“The philosophy of night walks is that when somebody shoots or when somebody gets shot in our community, when somebody suffers in our community, they are directly related to people in our churches, people that we know,” Lewis said.
After the discussion, Kapoor’s class members thanked the two community speakers for insight as to how they can be a part of the change.
“The way that I believe Fresno State students can solve this crisis of violence is to encourage more oncampus events that bring community members and leaders [together] to spark that inspiration,” said Emmanuel Agraz-Torres, a student in Kapoor’s class.
Kapoor said he believes that schools can get involved with this change.
“All of the schools, our education, our institution and colleges, we have to provide a lot of opportunities for the young people so they are fully and creatively engaged,” Kapoor said.