Meet Shante Leathers, a senior in the BSW program at Wheelock who has received recognition in People Magazine for her nonprofit work with Operation LIPSTICK. Shante is the Field Director to Operation LIPSTICK, which stands for Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop To Inner City Killing. The organization’s mission is to empower and educate women to refuse to be used to buy, hide, or hold a gun. Read the interview with Shante below to learn more about her work and connection to Wheelock College. You can also take action now by signing the pledge at the Operation LIPSTICK website here, or making a monetary donation to the organization here.
- Did you grow up in Boston?
Yes, I was born and raised in Boston, Massachusetts and attended Boston Public Schools.
- How did you get involved in LIPSTICK?
I got involved with LIPSTICK through an internship at Bunker Hill Community College. I was looking for an internship to complete so that I could receive my Associate’s degree in human services. A representative from Congressman Capuano’s office recommended me to the LIPSTICK mission. She thought I would be a great fit for the organization.
LIPSTICK’S mission is to empower women to refuse to be used to buy, hide or hold a gun. After realizing the impact that gun violence was having on our community, the question was posed: where did the gun come from? We realized that one way the guns are getting into the street are through women. We focus on educating women about the risks in committing this crime.
- Describe your role as field director.
In the organization as field director, I co-lead leadership trainings and present on panels. I have the honor of traveling to organizations across the country to present the LIPSTICK mission. Through these roles, I am building community relationships through networking with organizations in Boston and surrounding cities. The most rewarding part of being Field Director is connecting with women on a one on one basis. I encourage women to sign our pledges that say they refuse to be used to buy, hide or hold a gun. There is a second pledge that many people sign, which is to always ask, “Where did the gun come from?”
- Have you seen the impact the organization has had firsthand?
Yes. I have been involved with LIPSTICK since 2014, and the work that was done before I came into the organization was the foundational work. Since then, we have worked as a team to achieve impressive outcomes. The district attorney Dan Conley credits LIPSTICK for the 33 percent drop of crimes committed by women and girls in Boston. I have experienced firsthand the power of having a conversation with a teenage girl regarding the choices she makes to help her boyfriend hide his gun. After our conversation, that young girl made a conscious choice to sign the LIPSTICK pledge, and refuse to be used. There are many women and girls who make that same decision.
- What are your hopes for the future of LIPSTICK?
My hope for the organization is for it to continue to grow and spread nationally. Women across the country should hear the message, and be motivated and empowered to first say “NO!” and then to stand up for themselves. There are women across the nation who are being manipulated, used, and coerced into holding a gun for a loved one. It is not worth their freedom. My hope is that every person realizes that gun violence is an epidemic, a public health issue that is ripping apart our communities. I hope that LIPSTICK continues to grow along with every gun prevention organization, so that there will be less violence and more education.
- How can people on campus or reading the newsletter get involved?
People can get involved in many ways. Show up to a LIPSTICK event and follow the organization on Facebook under “Operation LIPSTICK”. We can always use more volunteers to help us carry out the mission.
People can help by raising awareness to the issue of gun violence by asking, “Where did the gun come from?” via social media. Lastly, people can donate. We are a non-profit organization and many things take time to do because we have to have the funding to make it possible. People can visit our website at operationlipstick.org and select donate.
- What advice would you give to others who are working on their own non-profit campaign?
Networking is key. It is not only about networking to get your own message across, but building and supporting others as well. In return, others will support you. Another piece of advice is to never give up. Non-profit work can be frustrating when it feels like no one is listening, but when you stay focused on your mission and put your message on repeat, soon enough someone will hear it, invest in it, and believe in it.
- What has been the impact of your Social Work education at Wheelock?
Being a transfer student, one of the first courses I took at Wheelock was “Dynamics of Oppression” with Professor Carlos Hoyt, and “Intro to Social Work” with Debby Beck. Those courses taught me a lot about myself and a lot about the clients that I work with. Now I view the work that I do at LIPSTICK in more of a systemic manner. I delved deeper into the work that I do as a LIPSTICK Lady, and I now think about how race, class, and gender can sway someone into making a bad decision.
- How do you think that LIPSTICK’s mission connects to Wheelock’s mission to improve the lives of families and children?
LIPSTICK’s mission focuses on women and girls while empowering and educating them to make positive choices. Women are faced with difficult decisions every day. The decisions that they make impact their children and families. At LIPSTICK, we believe women hold the key. Giving women a power tool to change the outcome of their family improves the lives of families and children as whole. The mission of LIPSTICK, along with Wheelock’s mission, is really about changing the world.