Today’s society and the current wave and upward trend of violence has caused us all to search for a way to feel safe again. Whether it’s mass shootings, or the continual struggle for equality, we are looking to our community leaders for accountability. What we often fail to do is look at ourselves and ask what role we play in so many of the issues that are plaguing society today. One of the most prevalent issues today is the gun violence epidemic. Gun violence, and the trail of trauma it leaves behind, has an undeniable impact on communities, particularly those of color. It remains a crucial social determinant of health that directly impacts both quality of life, and the right to live in a safe environment.
Are there any easy answers to solving society’s obvious gun and violence problem? If guns were removed and stricter laws were set in place, would the violence stop? Not necessarily, because the problem is so deeply rooted in our society. Stricter gun laws are a start, however, they would not have an immediate impact on our inner cities. New York City Mayor Adams often says, “There are many rivers that feed the sea of violence.” He goes on to explain the importance of damming those rivers. One such way is to examine the real reason why some of our youngest perpetrators are picking up guns. What is causing our young people not to value the lives of others as well as their own? What is at the root of their self-hatred and lack of hope? These are tough, but necessary questions to determine how a child can become so disenfranchised with society, and themselves, to not value their own life. A child who has no love for themselves or cannot see a future for themselves, cannot value the life of anyone else. This sets a dangerous precedent for our future generations. Don't all children deserve the opportunity to dream and learn how to love themselves?
“My hope is that they have the strength to succeed in life. I want them to know they do not have to follow a group or pick up a gun. I want them to understand they are much more powerful than a gun. A gun takes away their power. I want them to be emotionally, socially, and intellectually healthy. If they are healthy in those ways they can rule the world.”
All of us, especially our children deserve the opportunity to dream, and learn how to love ourselves. I recently had the opportunity to chat with someone who has made it her mission to teach our children that very fundamental skill. Elaine Lane is the founder of David’s Shoes. David’s Shoes was born out of the tragic incident of gun violence that took Elaine’s son. As Elaine continued to process the devastating loss, she came to the realization that some of our children had lost their way, and in turn devalued their lives, and the lives of others. She founded David’s Shoes whose mission is rooted in teaching children to value life. In today’s society with constant debates over stricter gun laws, more resources for communities, reduction in poverty, more services for mental illness, we never stopped to include tools to teach our youngest members of society to love themselves. David’s Shoes is a foundation Elaine created that she hopes can change the trajectory of what is happening. Her goal is to give youth hope in themselves while teaching them to dream and love themselves. This will in turn help them to honor and value all life.
Q: Tell us about your background- where were you born, how did you get involved in your career as an educator?
A: I am from Charleston, South Carolina. It was safe for me growing up. I lived in the projects and they are totally different from Northern ones. There was violence, but my mom was so strict that we were protected because of her. My mother kept us almost prisoners to keep us safe.
I received my BA from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was not sure what I wanted to do, so I majored in Psychology. Later I ended up taking an education and child psychology course. That opened the door for me to go into education. I did substitute teaching in the South, but that was not what I wanted. I eventually joined North Carolina volunteers who focused on students in poverty areas and functioned like the Peace Corps. We went to impoverished areas in the summer in North Carolina. It dawned on me during this time that I wanted to help kids and that I had a gift of helping children.
I came across other educators during the course of my career that would tell me that they learned from my teaching methods and how I connected with children. It is rewarding to see kids figure things out and the light coming on within them when they realize they figured something out. The key is you don't give everything but enough information so that they can figure it out themselves.
Q: What is the message of David’s Shoes?
A: Honoring life is the message. The foundation’s focus is with kids, and particularly young men, and them going to college. Young people often doubt themselves. They are figuring out who they are. I want them to know they are worthy and have intelligence. I want them to know that no matter what the problem is, they can figure it out. My hope is that they have the strength to succeed in life. I want them to know they do not have to follow a group or pick up a gun. I want them to understand they are much more powerful than a gun. A gun takes away their power. I want them to be emotionally, socially, and intellectually healthy. If they are healthy in those ways they can rule the world. If we really cared for our kids, we would think more about what we are giving them and teaching them in society. Otherwise, how much do we care for our kids? We talk a good game but the proof is in the pudding.
I attended a non violence event at a church one time. The pastor said the most violent act in our community is poverty. It shocked me and I thought about that. If a parent cannot afford food or housing it is horrendous. Think about how that impacts kids and parents emotionally. Poverty is one of the most violent acts in our society. Who do we blame? We blame the kids. How can we blame kids who may have experienced so much.
Q: David’s Shoes is one way you channeled your pain into a purpose, how else have you worked to process this?
A: I took part in a storytelling event with the theater company Houses on the Moon, and from that event, a play called Gun Country was formed. The purpose of this storytelling event was for us to share our stories about guns, and the effect it had on us. There were many stories about the emotional impact of gun violence on survivors. Many people from different walks of life had totally different backgrounds and they still had to deal with gun violence. The relationships we had established were especially shocking. It is these small consistent conversations with people that can help change our society’s behavior when it comes to gun violence. If people can see what you are saying even if they do not agree with you, I think some of the social issues we have today can be eliminated.
Right now society is hurting no matter the age. Some blame music, some social media, bullying, mental illness, poverty, etc. Many of us do not have all we need. Some kids do not see a pathway out of poverty. Talking about gun violence and its impact on our kids can help deal with the problem. One kid told me that hearing gunshots did not bother her anymore. Kids are becoming desensitized to it. We are living in a society of hurt. Instead of us trying to see each other as human beings, we quickly label people, and we do not have to see them as human beings. We are taught not to deal with our hurt. Our hurt has been buried for so long and now you have a group of people acting out on this hurt. We are going back into a state of fear. I think a lot of our problems are because of fear.
Q: What do you think should happen next?
A: David's Shoes has been a learning process and the one thing I am realizing is I have to be intentional each time because I do not know if I will see the people I speak to again after I speak to them. I want them to walk out the door with something. I think the answer to all of this is love. I want kids to love themselves so that they do not have to hold onto fear or pick up a gun. They are able to move forward, and look at someone different from them, and accept them. My son was able to do that. He was able to connect with kids of any color. We have to continue that. If we cared enough, and saw each person as human, and saw the value in each person, gun violence would diminish. Kids would think "I could not hurt someone because I would not want anyone to hurt me." That is my hope, that is my goal. My goal is for everyone in the US to see no need for a gun. We have to value ourselves enough so that we value the other person.
Q:What are your hopes for our younger generation?
A: My hope is that kids will see the possibilities they have and choose to love. I believe it can happen and is happening. For example, a 10 year old in Georgia started a community garden. I want kids to see themselves doing positive things and to have good values. I force them to say not just Black lives matter, but to say that “you matter.” If they say it, it becomes a part of them and they realize all people matter as well.
We thank Elaine for all that she does while being the thought leader that she is, and for using her foundation David’s Shoes to spread her message of love, and hope over violence. If you are lucky, you get the opportunity to cross paths with a true visionary, and thought leader destined to make a meaningful impact. Elaine Lane fits that mold. The work she does along with David’s Shoes is the call to action that we need to end the gun violence epidemic gripping our society, and to also create a generation that learns how to love, and dream again. No child, teen, or adult deserves not to be safe. David’s Shoes is making a difference one child at a time. To learn more, visit https://www.davidsshoes.org/.
Elaine Lane, a native of Charleston, South Carolina, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from Johnson C. Smith University located in Charlotte, North Carolina. A graduate study in Learning Disabilities was taken at Montclair State University.
Elaine had the privilege of being a Resident Teacher at the Harold Wilson School for Professional Development in Newark in Newark, NJ, where she had to demonstrate various teaching strategies to other eighth grade teachers while being responsible for teaching eighth grade Language Arts. She also facilitated teacher workshops on diversity. Upon retirement from Newark public schools, Elaine became an Adjunct Faculty member at Montclair State University for the next 15 years.
Elaine Lane is the founder of David’s Shoes - a New Jersey Nonprofit Corporation. This organization was founded in June 2007, in response to the loss of her son David, to teen violence. According to the Center for Disease Control during that same year 3,792 youth under the age of 19 were killed as a result of gun violence.
This program’s aim is to reduce teen violence by encouraging children and youth to honor life. Elaine has made presentations that encourages students to make wise choices through New Jersey as well as New York. She reminds them of their value as human beings. At the presentations, thousands of youths have signed the Honor Life Pledge. Her nonprofit corporation gave its first book scholarship of $500.00 in 2008. Today,10 students are given scholarships in the sum of $750.00 At present it has given more than $50,000 in book scholarships to deserving young men of at-risk communities. Elaine’s greatest desire is to be a vehicle of change in the lives of youth.
Elaine is a member of the Irvington Branch of the NAACP.