Homicides have continuously increased in DC from 2017 to 2021, National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform.
“Storytelling is a mode of healing. It is to express what you have been through, make meaning of it and then reframe it so that you can contribute to change”, Katherine Russell, The Healing Outlet.
Every human being has unique capacities. We are like the pieces of a magnificent puzzle just waiting to find our place and join others to be a part of something great. Just like the Japanese writer Ryunosuke Satoro said: “Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” It was precisely this principle that brought Charnal and Katherine together to work against the rising gun violence in Washington, DC.
Gun Violence On The Rise In Washington, DC
From 2017 to 2021 violence and homicides have been on the rise in Washington, DC, according to the Gun Violence Problem Analysis Summary Report conducted by the National Institute for Criminal Justice Reform. And these incidences disproportionately affect the black population even though they only comprise 46% of the overall population in DC.
In fact, in the period from 2019 to 2020, 89% of homicide victims were black as well as 86.3% of the nonfatal shooting victims. Also, young adults make the highest percentage of those affected by violence, where 35.3% of homicide victims were 25-34 years old as well as 32.8% of nonfatal shooting victims. And as of May 8 of 2023, the homicides have reported an increase of 15%, according to the DC Metropolitan Police Department.
Gun Violence: A Personal Story
Charnal Chaney is an entrepreneur, a social activist and a healer from Washington, DC, who has lived the devastating effects of gun violence. She grew up with an incarcerated mother who had killed a peer at age 19, unleashing a ripple effect of tragedies in her life.
“I just experienced a lot of trauma at a young age,” recalls Charnal. “My mom did a lot of time in prison. She went to prison when I was about 3 years old. By the time I was 7, I had both parents in prison. I had no stability as a child. When I was 14 I had a stepmother – who was very abusive – she wound up putting me in a hospital; and I have been on my own since I was 16. I had my first daughter at 17 and I ended up in a domestic violence relationship.”
Katherine Russell is also a young entrepreneur and social activist from Washington, DC. She has lost three peers in her life to gun use and violence, a topic she now advocates against.
“I think everybody in the country is touched by gun violence in a certain way,” says Katherine. “I have lost three school peers through gun violence: one was a suicide, one was an accidental shooting where a boy killed his sister who was in 6th grade and went to my school and, after highschool, a peer who graduated a year before me – a girl who was walking out at night – was shot. We are constantly pushing the topic of gun violence to the back of our minds and we might not actually live in an area where there are rival gangs or disputes between neighborhood groups but that’s not a reality separated from any of us.”
Healing Through Yoga
Following her domestic violence relationship, Charnal decided it was time to change and heal herself in order to move onto a better quality of life.
“I knew that I would have to take my healing seriously if I wanted to break some of those cycles that were passed down to me because I had no healthy ways to cope at all. It was all toxic ways of dealing with everything. So to completely change that norm was very hard because I didn’t have any examples to follow,” explains Charnal.
After doing some research on healing, books like Louise Hay’s “You Can Heal Your Life” and discovering the benefits of yoga helped her to change her life for the better. In 2020 she founded Bold Yoga, a healing company that creates safe spaces for youth in the DC community who have experienced traumatic events, giving them a place to heal, do yoga, meditate, and talk about the violence happening around them.
Healing Through Storytelling
On the other hand, Katherine was born with a condition called cystic fibrosis. By the age of 22, she needed to have a double lung transplant and that near death experience allowed her to find a true passion in her life: writing and storytelling.
“I learned to process my trauma through storytelling and that is really what helped me to find a place where I belong, in writing and storytelling,” explains Katherine. “I went through that very intense health process and learned how to make meaning of that experience through story sharing. That led me to a path on how to connect other people with that experience.”
Katherine then founded Transformative Justice Solutions, an organization which does consulting in social justice with a focus on storytelling. She focuses on helping women who have experienced trauma to express what they have been through, making sure that they are compensated in spaces where they are asked to share their stories without being retraumatized, feel used or get tokenized by companies.
The Healing Outlet
Charnal met Katherine 6 years ago when Katherine was working with women re-entry programs. They both wanted to make a change for the better in the community of DC but it wasn’t until 2023 that they decided to create a project together, bringing their unique talents together to prevent gun violence and help victims of gun violence in the DC area through an App called The Healing Outlet.
“The Healing Outlet is a joint venture between Bold Yoga and Transformative Justice Solutions. I have seen Charnal share her story on multiple platforms. She has made me cry because of the power that she speaks with and the relentlessness and the strength she approaches problems with and the care she gives to anyone she connects with,” says Katherine. “We are very aligned in our beliefs about healing and what it looks like to elevate the community, in my eyes I don’t have the answer, the community does.”
This App will be a platform to give community members the power to share their voices and their solutions, their curriculums and their inspirational stories to heal the community. It will share the resources that victims can reach out to as well as information and a network of organizations that aim to prevent gun violence.
“We see hundreds of thousands of people benefiting from this App because we are going to partner with schools, hospitals and more,” says Katherine. “And we want first responders to be able to say: “Download this App,” instead of “We don’t know where to send you.” Once we launch it we hope that other cities see that it works and that they can replicate the project.”
Becoming a Grantee of The Pollination Project
In order to make the App a reality, Katherine began to look for funds available and she remembered The Pollination Project.
“I had known about TPP for a long time and recommended it to nonprofits all the time, but I had never applied,” remembers Katherine. “I decided this was the right project for us to work on together. And it is the first funding we received for the project. When we found out we were getting the funds we were brought to tears because it meant that someone believed in this and that other people might believe in it as well.”
The Healing Outlet will also compensate DC residents, activists, leaders, and artists who create content for the app, and it will feature related content channels.
“We want people to think about the way they approach trauma, think about the way they teach their children or engage with others, to have new means for the community to come together, changing the way we talk about healing,” says Katherine.
“There are people and resources in our city to help gun violence victims or to prevent it; it’s just that at the moment not everybody is working together. That is the gap, that is where our city is falling short and we are losing people because we are not working together,” says Charnal, as she takes a step forward with Katherine to stretch out their hands and reach out for others to join in and make a difference together.
If you’d like to learn more and support The Healing Outlet visit their donation site.
If you are inspired by this work and have an idea for a project that addresses an issue that you are passionate about, we’d like to invite you to submit an application and together we will build a better, more compassionate future!
If you would like to support the work of more changemakers like this around the world, please visit our donation page and make a gift today!