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Milwaukeean Ramiah Whiteside’s Life ‘Forever Changed’ By Gun Violence

Ramiah Whiteside
Kevin J. Miyazaki
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Since the age of five, guns have always been present in Ramiah Whiteside's life. Now, he is working to help young Milwaukeeans escape gun violence.

Ramiah Whiteside was born into a violent world. Growing up in Milwaukee’s Hillside neighborhood, guns were a regular part of his life from an early age. At times, Whiteside has been the one holding the gun. At times, he’s been the one getting shot. He witnessed his best friend die by a bullet meant for him, and this violence ultimately landed Whiteside in prison, where he was eventually able to find a new path in life.

Whiteside is now a community organizer for EXPO, or Ex-Incarcerated People Organizing, helping young people escape gun violence and find new purpose and meaning. Whiteside wrote about some of his experiences with gun violence in this month’s Milwaukee Magazine.

“Because of where I grew up — the neighborhood or the demographic or the setting I was born into — guns were a part of that reality,” he says.

From the age of five, Whiteside says he routinely saw the people around him with firearms and was often given the opportunity hold and shoot the weapons. He says had his first gun before he turned 12. Guns weren’t just present but used.

Whiteside says he's been shot on five separate occasions. One time, he recounts, a stray bullet hitting his leg and he didn’t realize until he got home when neighbor saw his leg covered in blood.

Whiteside still carries both physical and emotional wounds from those incidents. His eye uncontrollably twitches from nerve damage due to being shot in the face. He also says he has PTSD, which can be triggered by hearing a firecracker go off or just seeing a gun.

“Just seeing a gun, I just kind of have a visceral response to it. I’ve just learned to kind of hide it well,” he says.

From his own wounds to losing people around him that he loved, Whiteside says the effects of gun violence have stuck with him and will always be with him.

“Gun violence, there’s this reality to it. You are forever changed when you pull the trigger of a gun — intentionally or unintentionally. And, you are forever changed when you are hit by a bullet or from gun violence,” he says.

As a community organizer, Whiteside is working to find young people who are in similar positions that he was in and help them escape the trappings of gun violence. For people re-entering their community after being incarcerated, he works to make sure they have access to stable housing and a job. Whiteside says the key to stopping the violence is not simply removing the means for hurting others but replacing it with something else.

“If you don’t want me to do what I was trained to do or what I have been exposed to do from five years old on up, you have to replace it with a different construct. You have to replace it with a different kind of thinking. So programs like restorative justice, peer-to-peer mentoring, things like that, that help you stay grounded to what works,” he says.

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