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Milwaukee Mothers Against Gun Violence is working to change the way we view victims of gun violence

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Debra Gillispie
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WUWM
Debra Gillispie Bettys 2021 cover

The year 2020 was historic in Milwaukee, and not just because of the pandemic. The year set a record high for both homicides and gun violence, with 190 people killed—the vast majority killed with guns.

This year, we’re on pace to beat those numbers. One local organization, Milwaukee Mothers Against Gun Violence, is among the many working to combat this issue, but also changing the way we view victims.

Milwaukee Mothers Against Gun Violence was founded by Debra Gillispie after her son, Kirk Bickham Jr., was shot and killed. Gillispie was one of the winners of this year’s Betty Awards from Milwaukee Magazine, and she shares why she made gun violence the focus of her life’s work.

"Because they [her son and his friend] were murdered and because they were African American, they [media] assumed it was under negative pretense,” says Gillispie. “It was victim blaming. And so that sparked my action. [Of] me going into action to clarify how my son was murdered."

Gillispie’s work has led her to meet many other survivors and other people like herself who were affected by gun violence. She says every person she's met has stuck with her.

"They all stick out to me because their stories are so unique. Not one is the same. But what I would say is that those who want to keep the voices going, those people actually stick out to me," says Gillispie.

With the Rittenhouse trial putting gun rights in the forefront, Gillispie says she's been lucky to be in contact with organizations like Wisconsin Anti Violence Effort. Now, she says she's able to stay abreast of the changes and what's going on in real time with gun legislation.

"Everyone seems to talk about the Second Amendment, as opposed to the First Amendment, which is our right to live and feel safe. I think that it should be at the top of the discussion," says Gillispie.

In the future, Gillispie says she would like to channel her activism into giving survivors a platform to tell their story.

"Giving survivors the opportunity when they're ready to share with us what it is that they would like to happen or to change, after they lose someone to gun violence. I pray someone gives me the opportunity to do that for our survivors or victims of gun violence," says Gillispie.

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