Air Force veteran comforts kids plagued by gun violence

HARDY: “It's like a war zone. It's like being in the military.”

Frustrated by the senseless loss of life in Washington D.C., Air Force veteran and high school English teacher Jawanna Hardy decided to do something about it.

She launched “Guns Down Friday” - an outreach program to support neighborhoods plagued by gun violence - including the one she has lived in since childhood.

HARDY: "I was just so tired of seeing all the violence, seeing the children's lives being lost."

On Fridays, community activist Hardy visits the graves of children who have lost their lives to gun violence - including Devon McNeal - an 11 year old who was struck in the head by a stray bullet at a Fourth of July cookout in Washington, DC, last year.

HARDY: "I sometimes feel, like, hopeless. Like, sometimes, I really feel like I want to--, I can, like, bring a child back to life. I just have all types of thoughts."

After visiting the cemetery, she drives her van - adorned with photos of young gun violence victims - through the streets to greet the youth.

On a recent Friday, she arrived outside an apartment complex in Southeast Washington with water balloons - as kids laughed and scrambled to drench one another.

For many, hearing gunshots is all too normal…

ARMANI CHAMBERS, 13-YEAR-OLD LOCAL RESIDENT: "Down the street, just like two hours ago, [there were] three shots - had to get to booking it."

RASHAD BATES, 12-YEAR-OLD LOCAL RESIDENT: "Just ignore it. Don't look out the window, because you never know if the bullet is coming toward your window."

Like many cities across the U.S., Washington has seen a spike in shooting-related deaths during the pandemic. Homicides were up 19 percent in D.C. in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department.

In addition to the Friday activities, Hardy said she has taken on other initiatives: raising money for shooting victims' gravestones, advocating for more streetlights, and training people how to treat bullet wounds themselves.

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