Episode 24: What Anti-Violence Activist Jamira Burley of the Everytown Survivor Network Wants Jeff Sessions to Know

June 2nd 2017

Sarah Gray

If anti-violence activist Jamira Burley could tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions one thing it would be this: The War on Drugs does not work. "It creates a hostile environment where people are literally living in a war zone," she told ATTN: via phone. Burley knows this first hand; she grew up in Philadelphia at the tail end of the crack epidemic.

She was exposed to many aspects of this "war zone" environment. All of her immediate family members, including her 10 older brothers, were incarcerated at some point during her formative years. And when she was a sophomore in high school, her 20-year-old brother was shot and killed.

Prison Cell

Two days after her brother's murder, Burley returned to school and began picking fights as a way to cope. Her principal pulled her aside, and helped her channel that anger into activism.

"Through a collaboration with my principal and other staff and students I created the Panther Peace Corps, which was an anti-violence peer mediation program," Burley explained. The program reduced violence at her school by 30 percent, and then-Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell gave Burley a $50,000 grant to start the program at other high schools.

Burley's anti-violence activism hasn't slowed: after attending Temple University, she worked in Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter's office to lead the City of Philadelphia Youth Commission. Burley has also worked with Amnesty International, was appointed to the United Nations Global Education First Initiative Youth Advocacy Group, worked on the Hillary for America campaign, and was named a White House Champion of Change by President Barack Obama.

She is also a member of the Everytown Survivor Network and speaks out about the impact of gun violence, especially on communities of color where the issues of addiction, criminal justice reform, mental health, police brutality, and gun violence all intersect.

"Much of the work that I do is around 'how do you heal communities of color who have been so oppressed in so many ways?'" she said.

While she recognizes there is no quick policy fix to solving gun violence—since mental health issues, fear of the police, mass incarceration, and a lack of resources must all be addressed—Burley believes universal background checks are essential.

And she doesn't think that the goal, while difficult, is impossible to achieve. "Small acts do make big impacts over time," she explained.

Hear the full interview with Jamira Burley above or on Apple PodcastsGoogle PlayStitcher, or SoundCloud.