CLEVELAND — A woman in Cleveland who lost her childhood best friend to gun violence is turning her personal pain into a passion for helping others affected by the trauma of gun violence.
At the Unbar Cafe in Cleveland's Larchmere neighborhood, El Jay'Em shares how she is making the future brighter for her community through her organization "Speakezie-Go Hard."
"I lost my best friend from kindergarten to gun violence back in 2018. And because I lost her I experienced that trauma. Once all of the hype on social media goes away because everyone wants to be in your business, once the cameras go away, the police go away and once real life sets in, how do you adjust?"
She found the organization after her best friend's death. The purpose of the gatherings is to help people target their trauma and heal from it through poetry, rap, visual arts and other forms of art therapy.
"In layman's terms, we are trauma relief for the soul," she said.
She said the effects of gun violence can last long after the crime scene tape, police reports and court cases.
"A lot of people think gun violence — 'Oh somebody died and it's over.' But that's not the case. There are so many people in Cleveland walking around with bullets inside of them, like they're mangled and they have these scars and trauma they can't deal with."
People like Cam, who spent 6 years in prison for gun violence, now participates in Speakezie events to let young people know guns are not the answer.
"Being in jail. Being in that space where it was just me myself and I had to write to kind of get it out. Sometimes our voices go unheard, so like poetry and those platforms is a way for us to be heard," said Cam.
El Jay'Em said the community, stakeholders and city officials, including police, need to look at the environment of the teens committing gun violence and their emotional development.
"Is it a literacy desert? Is it a food desert? Does it suffer from the digital divide? she said. "Have they lost aunts and uncles and friends around them so somewhere in their head they're seeing these volatile actions happen, so now they're thinking that this is normal?"
El Jay'Em said her mission is to get to the root of the problem and the source of pain.
Listen to Danita's podcast interview with El Jay'Em:
"I don't plan on being a band-aid to a gunshot wound. Speakezie is that in-depth surgery that really going to go in and help your soul heal so that you can be whole," she said.
This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.