Nubia Ptah knew the person lying on the colorful rug wasn’t really shot. She knew the T-shirt tourniquet being tied wasn’t really necessary, and that the various invisible wounds weren’t real.
But for Ptah, just watching a person pretend to be riddled with bullets at a first-responder training last week at the Chicago Torture Justice Center was unnerving.
“I literally thought I was going to see blood,” she said after she saw the fake shooting victims get up from the floor. “I think it’s because we know somebody who knows somebody who was shot.”
Ptah is not a first responder. Instead, she and roughly a dozen others were learning how to respond and give aid to a person who suffers a gunshot wound in real-time situations. They learned how everyday items, such as an empty potato chip or zip-lock bags, can be used in the absence of first-aid kit supplies in an emergency.
As the gun control debate rages on in the wake of recent mass shootings, including this week’s rampage at a Tulsa medical office and last month’s shootings at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, and a grocery store in Buffalo, New York, local community organizers are working in the reality of living with everyday gun violence.
With the official start of summer only weeks away, grassroots organizations are gearing up to host activities in 24 city neighborhoods that experience high levels of gun violence. Martine Caverl, a registered nurse, is continuing to give a series of first-responder trainings on Chicago’s South and West sides. She dreads the summer given the violence that it usually brings.
“At this time, Black people in Chicago are feeling a lot of hopelessness,” said Caverl, executive director and co-founder of Ujimaa Medics, which organized the May 25 training. “We want to believe in each other … We want to build that sense of collective work and responsibility in our communities.”
Caverl and her team of trained volunteers have taken their mission to protect Black lives through emergency and community care first response skills thanks to an $8,400 grant provided by Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.
The nonprofit is a coalition of more than 50 local foundations and funders and has provided $1.5 million this year to grassroots organizations like Caverl’s.
During the two-hour workshop last week, participants learned skills like how to handle a 911 call, how to apply a tourniquet with clothing or use an occlusive dressing to keep blood in a shooting victim’s body with everyday items like a discarded plastic grocery bag or clean sanitary pad.
The participants learn about scene safety and how to cope with bystanders, how to ask for consent to give aid, and other universal precautions.
In a city often rocked by daily shootings, the workshops are not only potentially lifesaving, but also community building, Caverl said. The trainings have been taught in living rooms, at backyard barbecues, in barbershops and schools.
“What does it mean when Black people are relying on each other for that help, that assistance, that community, for that helping hand?” she said.
In 2020, guns became the leading cause of death among children and teens in the United States, according to a Johns Hopkins review of the country’s gun deaths last year. More than 4,300 died of firearm-related injuries that year, a 29% increase from 2019, according to a recent research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which analyzed decades of mortality data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the workshop, Caverl and her team would ask the volunteers if they were OK after each shooting scenario. The volunteers would respond affirmatively, but they also had the opportunity to talk with others on-site willing to listen or take a moment to regroup outside of the space.
After the training concluded, Ptah told Caverl the event was “awesome.” She said the most important thing for her was them asking about individual volunteers’ wellness and frame of mind after volunteering for each scenario.
“It kept me present when they asked if I was OK. It secured my sanity,” she said.
Caverl’s response: “That’s what we need.”
More than 200 local grassroots organizations received PSPC grants, including Wild Yams and The cre.æ.tive Room, which each received $5,000. The groups focus on Black mothers and creativity through artist residencies.
Wisdom Baty, founder of Wild Yams, and Clemenstien Love, founder of The cre.æ.tive Room, said the money will be used to conduct nine community events, including gardening classes and mural activations in the Greater Grand Crossing and South Shore areas. The collaborative art projects will emphasize the importance of Black joy, beauty and safe spaces.
“What we need is joy,” Baty said. “I’m a strong advocate for less policing, more joy, more employment. We will be activating communities and neighbors … We also need the visual aid to think positively of ourselves. That’s the catalyst work that we see ourselves thinking through this summer.”
“We hope to create in the space of the training some kind of transformation in healing and sense of empowerment — a sense that there’s something that we can do to improve the life within our communities,” Caverl said.
That’s why Ujimaa Medics isn’t limited to gunshot wound training. It also conducts workshops on seizures and asthma community care and they’re continuously developing curriculum to address community needs, Caverl said.
“The idea is how do we achieve self-determination as it relates to our health? How do we transform our communities in such a way that we feel responsible for one another? There’s a method in which we can exercise that,” she said.
Symphony Fletcher, a second-year University of Chicago medical student, reached out to volunteer with Ujimaa Medics because she wanted to know what else she can do outside of the emergency department to help those in her community. She’s been volunteering for the past year and calls it “life sustaining.”
“I know at least if a gentleman had gotten shot and I wasn’t there, and a trained professional wasn’t there, then their community has them,” she said. “At the end of the day, if we’re being real, it’s our communities that is going to have our backs more than any system or institution.”
Check Ujimaa Medics social media for upcoming summer workshops. Applications for the Wild Yams at The cre.æ.tive Room Black Mothers Artist Summer Residency Program closes June 10.