Why is violent trauma the leading cause of death for Black men ages 15 to 34? Why, in poor and marginalized neighborhoods, is there a 50 percent chance that people treated for violent injury will suffer another within five years — and a 20 percent chance, over the same time period, that they will be killed?   

“It’s not just because of gun violence and gun access,” says Rob Gore. “We have to understand the conditions and situations that give rise to that violence.”

Gore, who received TC’s 2020 Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice at Academic Festival 2020, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), a hospital and school-based youth violence intervention and prevention program based at Kings County Hospital-SUNY Downstate in Brooklyn. Gore, Clinical Assistant Professor in the hospital’s Department of Emergency Medicine, argues that “hurt people hurt people” — that is, that resorting to violence is often both the symptom and cause of poverty, marginalization and other systemic inequities. KAVI’s services range from finding recovering patients safe housing to helping them chart a safe route to the rehabilitation clinic.

Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice | Dr. Rob Gore in Conversation

In his award acceptance remarks and a subsequent conversation with TC Associate Professor of Science Education Christopher Emdin, Gore said that while emergency room physicians are trained to see people at their worst, his mother and father (a teacher and a community activist) taught him to think about how people in their community could be at their best.

“I became a physician because of a love of science and helping people,” he said. “I wanted to take it up another notch and create an environment and space where people don’t have to become patients.” At KAVI, he said, “we understand that when you’re injured, you’re vulnerable, scared, not thinking clearly — and that’s often complicated by persisting poverty, depression and fear.”

I became a physician because of a love of science and helping people. I wanted to take it up another notch and create an environment and space where people don’t have to become patients.

— Rob Gore, Executive Director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI) 

Emdin, a pioneer in the field of hip hop pedagogy, said that barriers to success can also include “the psychological labor of navigating spaces without the freedom to tap into your natural genius.”

“I’ve been thinking about Kamala Harris during the vice-presidential debate,” he said. “The type of intellectual and emotional gymnastics she had to go through — ‘I don’t want to be an angry black woman,’ ‘I have to be approachable and kind,’ ‘I don’t want to make this about me, but he’s lying’ — and for her, it’s like, ‘I can’t even be present enough to debate on the issues because I have to navigate whether I’m being acceptable to my audience.’ So how do we educate in a way where we don’t look at kids as problematic, but instead extract kids’ natural talents?” 

The Morton Deutsch Award for Social Justice is named for the late TC psychologist, who launched the field of conflict resolution. The award was presented this year by Peter T. Coleman, Professor of Psychology & Education and Director of the Morton Deutsch International Center for Cooperation and Conflict Resolution, and the Center’s Associate Director, Danielle Coon.