Tonya Lewis Taylor

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Nationally prominent entertainer Tonya Lewis Taylor has enjoyed success in the music business, but personal advancement and monetary security have never been her only concerns. She’s always been more interested in mentoring the generations of Black youth behind her, giving back to the community, and trying to help battle ongoing issues of systemic racism and economic inequality. One of the outgrowths of those issues it the rising rate of gun violence in Black neighborhoods and the toll it’s taking in premature deaths among young people.

Lewis, a native New Yorker and the executive director/founder of the Entertainers 4 Education Alliance/I Will GRADUATE PROGRAM, was growing more distressed and upset as she continued to see ugly headlines about things happening around her. Since the beginning of last year there have been over 1,000 shootings and almost 300 murders in New York City. 

She wanted to do something that would both grab young people’s attention and also make a strong statement about the need to address gun violence. So in considering what entertainer’s music would be most effective she thought about slain rapper Pop Smoke. 

“He’s someone whose music resonates with youth,”Lewis said last week in a Tribune interview “We saw his music as a way to both immediately get young people’s attention and also use it to help propel positive reaction and then change. So we contacted his parents and told them about our plan to honor the legacy of Pop Smoke through a video and public service announcement. We were thrilled that they were wiling to get involved and approved of our decision.”

From this idea came the Gun Violence Destroys Families PSA. Its goal is to bring increased media attention and awareness to the most recent shootings, killings and violence that have been rapidly increasing in New York City since the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSA gives a chilling reminder of the pain of a mother who lost their son to gun violence. Audrey Jackson says, “I’ll never see my son run up the stairs, taking them two stairs at a time. I will never dance with my son again,” showing the cruelty left behind in place of a lost one.

But Lewis says the idea is certainly one that has equal value and impact nationwide, because the problem goes far beyond New York City. “This is a nationwide problem,” Taylor continued. “We’re certainly open to working with people in other cities. This PSA can hopefully have an impact across the country.”

In conjunction with the “Gun Violence Destroys Families” PSA, it’s part of an overall effort that also includes conversations about preventing further shootings. It has spawned an initiative geared toward educating the youth through an eight week anti-gun violence program called the “Stop the Violence” program. Middle and high school participants will create and implement different solutions to combat gun violence in their communities.

For more information on this PSA and/or overall efforts of the Entertainers 4 Education Alliance/I WILL GRADUATE PROGRAM visit their website at www.iwgprogram.com