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How a Former Gang Member is Helping Eliminate Gun Violence in San Diego

According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 187 incidents of gun violence in San Diego County last year. What’s worse, of those 187 incidents, 71 people died as a result.

On October 4, community members and local leaders came together to discuss these statistics and gun violence prevention at the latest Community Heroes event, hosted in partnership with KPBS and the National Conflict Resolution Center, and sponsored by The San Diego Foundation Center for Civic Engagement.

The event honored one man who knows firsthand the damaging impact that gun violence can have on individuals, families and communities.

Community Hero Bishop Cornelius Bowser is a former gang member turned church minister who spent most of his youth on the streets of San Diego as a member of the West Coast Crips Rollin 20s. During his 10 years as a gang member, he witnessed numerous friends go to jail, get shot and even killed as a result of gun violence.

Bishop Bowser knows he could have just as easily suffered the same fate had he not turned his life around at the age of 22. By reading the Bible, he found a greater purpose in life and now uses his life experiences to help individuals caught up in the same gang activity he was engaged in many years ago.

As Bishop Bowser explained at the event, gun violence is part of a broader problem that needs to be addressed holistically in order to affect real change.

“To limit gun violence, we need to address the structural systems tied into race, inequity and poverty,” shared Bishop Bowser. “While we must address access to guns, we need to empower communities through higher quality education, better job opportunities and increased access to mental health services.”

[embedyt] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yMH1uzlbMQY[/embedyt]

Community Assistance Support Team

Alongside former San Diego Gang Commission Executive Director Lynn Sharpe-Underwood, Bishop Bowser founded the Community Assistance Support Team (CAST), an organization that seeks to prevent gang-related violence, especially as it relates to guns.

By building relationships and communicating directly with gang members, residents and law enforcement, CAST volunteers are able to identify the causes of gun violence in specific neighborhoods, whether it be a recent gang dispute or something much larger. They then work to connect individuals with the resources and support they may need, such as mental health services or alternative methods to resolving conflicts.

In one instance, Bishop Bowser helped organize a boxing match between rival gangs so they could settle their conflict in a safer environment, without the risk of losing any lives.

“We try to reach out to gang members right after we know there’s been a shooting,” explained Bishop Bowser. “By creating that human connection and talking to them at this critical moment, we can potentially change their minds and help them on a new path instead of immediately resorting to revenge.”

Bishop Bowser estimates he and CAST have helped thousands of people impacted by gun violence when factoring in the ripple effect of gun violence on family, friends and neighbors. But more work is still required to significantly decrease that 187 number.

Join the Conversation

The San Diego Foundation is proud to support the Community Heroes initiative and local leaders such as Bishop Bowser who are working to make San Diego a safer, more equitable and vibrant place to live.

By engaging in difficult yet productive conversations, San Diegans from all sectors, including law enforcement, business, academia and nonprofits, can address pressing regional challenges, such as gun violence prevention.

Support the Center for Civic Engagement

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