“That’s where I come from, where you got to be a man before it’s time to even be a man.”
Hip-hop fans know him as Young Fre$h, but in his Southeast Washington, D.C., neighborhood, he’s known simply as Edge. In addition to being a proud father, Chris Edge is a gunshot survivor and a community violence intervention (CVI) success story.
He credits Prince George’s Hospital Center with saving his life three times, first when he was shot in his neighborhood in 2009, and then nine years later when he was stabbed 12 times at the mall by his best friend, who was experiencing a mental health crisis. While recovering, Chris was approached by Dr. Joseph Richardson, co-founder and co-director of the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program, who stuck by Chris during his recovery and offered him an alternative path to become the change he wanted to see in his neighborhood. The Capital Region Violence Intervention Program is a hospital-based violence intervention program (HVIP). HVIPs are a category of CVI programs that employ specialists to work directly with victims of violence during their recovery process and to provide long-term care such as mental health services, legal assistance, and home-based mentoring.
While these services are vital to helping break the cycles of violence for individuals at risk of repeat violent injury, what helped Chris recover and succeed were the positive influences of the CVI staff, which showed him a different trajectory that he wanted for himself. The staff provided critical care above and beyond tangible services like surgery or financial assistance that were just as important for healing and changing behavior.
“No money could have saved me right. I needed words. I needed love,” Chris said. At their core, HVIPs are about people caring about others, and when community members care for others in their community, it has a domino effect that heals and strengthens the entire community.
CVI programs can be particularly effective at reaching young Black men in overpoliced and underprotected communities who may be distrustful of medical and criminal legal systems. During Chris’ recovery, he was exposed to positive influences and had people pulling for him in ways that he hadn’t experienced before. One such person was Che Bullock, a violence intervention specialist at the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program. Che is a credible messenger who met Dr. Richardson during his own hospital recovery following a violent injury. An HVIP success story himself, Che worked for years, often unpaid, to reach young men such as Chris and be a model for what they could do with their futures.
From 2017 to 2019, Dr. Richardson and Che connected 116 Black men with services including housing, trauma recovery, legal aid, and mental health counseling. Only one participant in the program was reinjured—and it was Chris. Three months after surviving his severe wounds, Chris was shot in January 2019. When he returned to the hospital, he told the HVIP leaders that he didn’t provoke anyone and that he was still dedicated to incorporating their lessons into his life. He now had people he felt accountable to and didn’t want to let them down. He continued to engage with the program and credits the strong relationships he formed with his continued success.
Shortly after his last hospitalization, Chris was the main focus of the documentary “Life After the Gunshot.” He continues to use the platform provided by the documentary as well as his rap career to be a positive influence in his community and invest in the next generation of advocates.
Despite having been shot and stabbed multiple times in the neighborhood he grew up in, Chris continues to revisit the same spots in which he was injured to reclaim them by spreading positivity and being a mentor for younger men and women in southeast Washington, D.C. As a survivor-advocate, he hopes that his leadership and advocacy will ensure that he will contribute to breaking the cycle of violence in his neighborhood so young kids, including his daughter, can grow up in a safer Washington, D.C.
The authors would like to thank Jordan Costa at the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention for sharing her expertise in support of this article.