U.S. Air Force veteran Jawanna Hardy knows the tragic story behind all of the young faces she sees in a memorial for kids lost to gun violence in Washington, D.C.
Hardy was a E3, Airman First Class, who served for six years, including a one year tour in Qatar. Since leaving her post, she's founded an outreach program called "Guns Down Friday," which is aimed at providing comfort to families who have lost loved ones to gun violence.
“What struck me was how organized the war was and how disorganized the communities were when it came to gun violence and so I knew it was time to do something,” said Hardy.
"[Violence] is normal to them, and for us it's traumatizing, but they live it every day," she added.
There have been more than 13,000 gun deaths in the United States so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. Washington D.C. alone had surpassed 100 gun-related deaths by mid-July, according to Metropolitan Police Department Chief Peter Newsham.
Thirteen-year-old John’yae Young picked up bullets in her neighborhood.
“[The bullets] made me sad and angry at the same time,” said John’yae, who is a part of “Guns Down Friday.”
Hardy’s mission is to provide support through donations like school supplies, meals and field trips to Six Flags to children like Missy Scott.
Last year, Missy’s 15-year-old twin brother Maurice was shot and killed.
“My brother was funny, playful, very fun to be around, athletic [and] smart” said Scott. “I honestly do take my deep breath and think about [him] literally every day.”
As someone who has attended therapy and knows the importance of mental health, Hardy said she can’t imagine experiencing the level of trauma and gun violence these kids face without any help.
“I did therapy for two years just to get back on track. So when I see neighborhoods like this and they experience that trauma with no therapy. It’s traumatizing,” said Hardy, who added that “Guns Down Friday” visits a different neighborhood every day.
Across the country, more than 3,400 kids and teens have been shot this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, 320 of those killed were under the age of 18.
Still, Hardy says that there is hope.
“It’s all love and it's all about connecting and unity in our community,” said Hardy, “and that’s what is really going to change our community and the world.”