Shante Leathers ’17 is on a mission to empower women to take a stand against gun violence. Shante is part of an organization called Operation LIPSTICK (Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop To Inner City Killing), which seeks to empower and educate women to refuse to be used to straw buy, hide or hold guns for people who can’t get guns legally. It seeks to interrupt the relationship of straw buyers by empowering women to say no when asked to help buy or hide a gun.
Shante explains that experiences in her youth helped spark her passion for preventing gun violence. She remembers a classmate being shot and killed in their Dorchester neighborhood as a young teen. “My initial thought when I was that age was, ‘I could have saved him. What could I have done?'” she says. But now, the work is particularly meaningful to her because she has a son of her own. “He continues to look up to me and he has so much hope in his eyes,” she explains. “I don’t want to let him down and I don’t want to send him out into a world that I don’t think he’s safe in.”
In addition to pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Social Work here at Wheelock, Shante also works at the Louis Brown Peace Institute for her practicum, a well-known organization in Boston that is working to change society’s response to homicide and is a center for healing, teaching and learning. One of the techniques used to help victims of violence and their families heal is called called peace play, where participants arrange figures representing important people or events in their life in small sand boxes as a means to help communicate their struggles and strengths. “People really view that as a healing mechanism, and feel at peace without having to worry about outside influences,” Shante explains. The institute has also created a Traveling Memorial Blanket that is covered with pictures of people from the community who have lost their lives to homicide.
Operation LIPSTICK uses social media and visits to schools, conferences, and events to spread its violence prevention message. Shante encourages people to raise awareness when a shooting happens by flooding social media with the hashtag #WhereDidTheGunComeFrom. “I’ve lost friends to homicide, to gun violence, and I want to make a difference,” she says.