I just got word the other day about yet another senseless murder that can be attributed to our nations current gun violence epidemic. Unlike many of the other instances, this one hit really close to home for me due the victim Jonathan Messenberg, aged 18 being an AmeriCorps member volunteering his time to others when it happened.
Although it’s always tragic when someone so young has their life cut so short, this instance really broke my heart to learn about. This particular young man was murdered shortly after beginning his first project during his Corps year with AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps which should have been a 10 month stint. This is the same program I participated in several years ago and credit as being a major influencing event in my life thus far. This young man was in New Orleans to do some good for others, and it cost him his life.
In response to Joseph’s murder, NCCC has opted to remove both teams in New Orleans at the time, indefinitely.
I disagree with this response the organization has taken, unless there exists some sort of concrete evidence that his work with AmeriCorps was a factor in his death. We do no service in shielding those we would encourage to tackle the tough issues of today and tomorrow from the very situations we would encourage them to become familiar with and take on. Allowing what appears to be a random act of violence thought to be in some way gang related occurring in a densely populated urban setting known to offer the inherent risks associated with violence to serve as justification for teams abandoning their current projects is a bad call all around damaging any reputation for being a committed agent of change the organization may enjoy within the communities it serves. Rather than sticking around until the task at hand is completed, they have opted to abandon these communities, probably to the very same gangs at the root of the problem.
Reading his family’s description of him, I was able to relate to him on many levels as a person. His motivations for joining were much like my own and those of others in applying to the program; the opportunity to act upon personal convictions, helping others. By focusing on the needs of others and not yourself for a change, you become connected to something larger and more important than your own ambitions; offering a true sense of community. Exposure to this shared sense of community provides participants with a generally more well-rounded and healthy life perspective.
For what was essentially a selfless act by Jonathan to result in him paying the final price of his life at the age of 18 is well beyond being tragic. My opinion is that it is one of those rare moments where the worlds twisted sense of irony is on full display, clearly visible for all to see.
Like most deaths that come as a result of gun violence, very little rhyme or reason has been left for others to begin to attempt piecing together any explanation to the inevitable question, WHY.
Ultimately it will add up to nothing more than a terrible choice by whoever pulled the trigger and the bad luck on the part of Joseph’s inadvertently being in the wrong place at precisely the wrong time. Its the only possible explanation regardless of working hours devoted to detective work, or creative ways to try to slice and dice it; this unsatisfying excuse for an explanation and its unsavory nature as close to one as will ever exist.
To know first-hand how much the program would have influenced and benefited someone like the victim, actively interested in influencing the world around them only makes the loss all the more devastating, and wasteful; if that’s even possible.
For reasons we will never fully grasp, Jonathan never had the full opportunity to interact and grow as a conscious citizen among other people of similar interests. He will no longer be able to later bring his experiences in the benefits of direct action to his future community or organization. For his life to be cut short at precisely the time he stood to gain the most by virtue of his surroundings is an absolute travesty and a waste; a disservice to our future.
Gone forever is yet another potential community leader of the future both willing and able to take an active approach towards fulfilling our often neglected civic duty of ensuring we work to leave posterity with an improved product from that which we inherited. By working to change the injustices we notice in society and not passing the buck off, we make sure that those who follow are less likely to become burdened with fixing the broken remnants of decrepit or discredited ideologies or entities they had nothing to do with.
For someone driven enough to turn their beliefs into actions to be cut down by men a lesser quality and scruples than himself only further salts an already festering wound.
what a waste, what an utter waste.
Speaking from my own experiences with the same program, as well as the general consensus of those I shared that experience with, I know that his time with AmeriCorps and what it taught him would have changed his life in so many meaningful ways; if only he had that opportunity or option.
I know that I can speak for all service oriented members of the AmeriCorps family both past and present when I say he is on our minds today as we reflect upon our shared loss; he is gone, but not forgotten. My thoughts go out to his AmeriCorps teammates, his friends and most importantly his family as they mourn their sudden loss; may the ideals he stood for live on within each of you helping to guide your actions toward helping to carry out his goal of creating a better society than the one we currently live in, ensuring his memory and his passion will continue to live on.
It is my sincere hope no more of these tragedies are required in order for us to urge our elected leaders away from the lofty rhetoric surrounding the issue on both sides and down a path of common sense in our approach to gun control in this country. Even by settling on things like mandatory background checks which it is generally agreed should already exist (unless of course you’re the NRA) offers the potential of decreasing the number of gun related deaths we now see.
- A Day in Grey for Joseph Massenburg (americorpsalums.org)
- AmeriCorps member from Chicago area slain in New Orleans (thegrio.com)
- Volunteer community shocked at AmeriCorps teen’s murder (wwltv.com)
- Thank You for Being “Made In AmeriCorps” (americorpsalums.org)
- AmeriCorps Volunteer From Chicago Area Gunned Down In New Orleans (hiphopwired.com)
- Matteson teen fatally shot while volunteering in New Orleans (wgntv.com)
- AmeriCorps making a difference (jsonline.com)
- After slaying, AmeriCorps pulls 2 teams out of La. (utsandiego.com)
- National service and the sequester (strongerdemocracy.org)