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Latino Community Leaders Unite, Identify Ways to Enhance Safety from Firearms

By Refujio “Cuco” Rodriguez, Chief Strategist & Equity Officer, Hope and Heal Fund: The Fund to Reduce Firearm Injuries and Trauma

Participants gather on the final day of the National Latino Leadership Convening. (Photo credit: ALAS Media)

As part of Cal Wellness’ investments to address racial health inequities, we are proud to be longtime partners of Hope and Heal Fund, a donor collaborative taking a public health and race equity approach to reducing firearm violence and suicides. Hope and Heal Fund applies proven solutions and elevates promising strategies toward their vision of safe homes and communities. Its holistic and innovative approach is setting the stage to significantly lower firearm suicides and homicides statewide over the next five years. As part of its commitment to addressing firearm deaths, injuries, and trauma in California’s Latino community, Hope and Heal Fund hosted the inaugural National Latino Leadership Convening on Gun Violence in February. This is the first in a series of guest blogs profiling important work happening in communities across California.

I have devoted 20+ years to work that ensures everyone—no matter their background—has a fair chance at life. As my colleague and Hope and Heal Fund Executive Director Brian Malte
previously shared, reducing firearm injuries, deaths, and trauma is vital for communities to thrive. 

Latinos on the Frontlines

Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic group in the U.S., and they are among those most at risk from firearm injuries, deaths, and trauma. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, firearm suicides and homicides killed nearly 75,000 Latinos between 2001 and 2021. Latinos are suffering disproportionately, and we need equitable solutions. 

Although Latinos share similar challenges to other communities of color around firearm violence, our unique experiences and history raise specific issues that are not homogeneous to other populations. Key among these are language access, residential citizenship status, and issues related to firearm trafficking abroad. These factors are crucial because interventions that do not account for these unique challenges risk being ineffective. Applying equitable approaches requires addressing these issues head-on. Unfortunately, conventional gun violence prevention organizations often sideline these critical considerations. For instance, in some cases of intimate partner violence, victims hesitate to engage in interventions that rely on law enforcement due to their residential citizenship status and risk of deportation. This is just one example where traditional interventions fail to consider the broader implications.

Uniting Leaders Toward Solutions

Hope and Heal Fund seeks to surface and support such tailored solutions, and that’s why we held the inaugural National Latino Leadership Convening on Gun Violence. The event brought together 100 Latino leaders from across the country to underscore the need for tailored, community-driven solutions that honor cultural identity and leverage community wisdom in the fight against gun violence. It was an important first step to galvanize Latino voices and drive culturally appropriate and relevant resources to those working with Latino communities across the U.S. 

(Story continues below photos)

From left: Maestro Jerry Tello, co-founder of the National Compadres Network; Pam Mejia, Director of Research and associate Program Director at Berkeley Media Studies Group; Dr. Laura Vargas, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Colorado; and Fernando Rejón, Executive Director of the Urban Peace Institute, discussing the next steps in addressing gun violence in our communities. (Photo credit: ALAS Media)

Cuco on stage with Paul Carrillo (right), director of the Community Violence Initiative for the Giffords organization, co-founder of Southern California Crossroads in Los Angeles, and a member of the Council on Criminal Justice discussing Community Violence Intervention Programs. (Photo credit: ALAS Media)

I was inspired by participants who drew on their lived experiences to share their stories. It was wonderful to hear Zinnia Alejandro, Director of the Acuerdo de Paz program at Taller Salu, share about her work in Puerto Rico and the culturally rooted interventions her organization uses in Afro-Latino communities. Zinnia and other speakers challenged the status quo, pushed for bold solutions, and emphasized the need for action beyond current gun violence prevention strategies that are missing the mark. Their efforts are key as we witness continued firearm violence and suicides in our communities. 

I felt buoyed by passionate advocates and practitioners from across the nation, who forged a strong, united partnership in the pursuit of safety and healing. Their determination to support Latino communities will lay the groundwork for a sustained, impactful movement. Their aspiration for a future with no firearm injuries and deaths inspires me to continue our efforts to make this vision a reality.

Our Next Steps

Participants shared the need for Spanish-language materials to protect Spanish-speaking families. Hope and Heal Fund is working closely with the Hispanic Communications Network to produce educational materials with guidance on safe firearm storage. Above all, we hope to continue building on the success of this convening by enhancing and strengthening these networks while planning for future gatherings.  

Honoring our founding story and building on this year’s momentum, we will continue to offer inclusive spaces where together, we can foster safety among the diverse Latino community. By working with Latino leaders like Paul Carrillo (director of the Community Violence Initiative for the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention) and Kathryn Bocanegra (assistant professor at Jane Addams College of Social Work, University of Illinois Chicago), among many others, and by prioritizing race equity and public health, we can pave the way for a future where every individual, regardless of their background, can live free from the fear of gun violence.

Refujio “Cuco” Rodriguez

Refujio “Cuco” Rodriguez is the Chief Strategist & Equity Officer at Hope and Heal Fund. The Hope and Heal Fund works with community leaders and thought leaders to provide communities with the actionable data, resources and capacity to achieve success.

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