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Treating Youth Violence as a Health Issue

Dr. Robert Gore

During his undergraduate years at Morehouse College, Dr. Robert Gore, an attending physician and clinical professor of emergency medicine at Kings County Hospital, recalls that he wore a tee shirt with the mantra : "Lead, follow, or get out of my way."

Though he says that the tee is a relic of his "revolutionary college days," Dr. Gore is still living by that motto today. The 36-year old doctor is not just one of the leading national voices on the issue of youth violence but he is also the founder of an innovative violence intervention program, Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), which aims to reduce the alarming rates of violence among teenagers.

"I started looking at youth violence in 2006 after seeing the same faces over and over again in the emergency room. I realized that this is a preventable health problem," explained Dr. Gore, who has been working in trauma care for more than a decade since doing his residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, where he was chief resident.

"If someone comes in to the hospital complaining that they are thirsty, frequently urinating and losing weight, we pretty much know it's diabetes and we intervene and give the patient follow up treatment. But generally, we don't do that for a young person who comes in shot, stabbed, or otherwise wounded. Even though we know the symptoms, we don't treat it as a health problem," he said.

Wanting to change that, he founded KAVI two years ago at Kings County Hospital. The KAVI program provides support, empowerment and counseling to young people at risk for violence or already suffering from it.

Just like the words emblazoned on his college tee shirt, once Dr Gore started leading, others followed. The program boasts more than 30 volunteers--interns, other doctors and medical professionals, social workers, and many of Dr. Gore's friends-- who provide a gamut of services to teenagers and young adults as part of outpatient care at Kings County Hospital and at four local schools: from teaching young kids about anger management to mediation, capoeira (a form of martial arts), meditation, identity exploration through art, mentoring, and tutoring.

"Once someone is injured by violence, there is a strong chance it will reoccur. Our job as doctors and health care providers is to do our best to prevent disease and injury," said Dr. Eric Legome, Medical Director at Kings County Hospital. "We believe Dr. Gore's program is a great opportunity to decrease violence and improve the health of our community. "

At Kings County Hospital, youth who come into the emergency room with injuries related to violence are introduced to KAVI as part of their follow-up care, Dr. Gore said. They undergo a risk assessment that includes questions about their exposure to violence at home or at school, how they are performing in school, whether they are involved in frequent fights or arguments, and whether they are living in poverty. 

The numbers are telling: by the age of 12, the average American child is estimated to have witnessed  more than 100,000 acts of violence and 8,000 murders on television, according to a study from the American Psychological Association. Nationally, homicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to  24 year olds. And even grimmer, for African Americans in this age group, it is the leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Gore, who graduated from SUNY-Buffalo Medical School, started teaching and mentoring others when he was 15 years old. Both of Dr. Gore's parents are activists, teachers and volunteers.

Dr. Gore recently bought a home in Bedford-Stuyvesant near the same neighborhood where he was raised in the Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Flatbush areas of Brooklyn. A vegetarian, yogi, and avid snowboarder, he has been practicing daily meditation since he was in elementary school.

He said what kept him out of trouble growing up was the fact that he had lots of mentors, activities that kept him engaged, positive reinforcement in school, and encouragement at home and from the outside environment, including his old neighborhood. His wish is to replicate the same recipe of success through KAVI for other young men and women in his community so that they can have a shot at success, or at least to live a violence free life, like he did.

"I would not be here today had I not had the support and encouragement of so many people," he said. "When you are supported and encouraged you feel that a lot of things are possible."


January 2013

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