Who she is: LaKeesha Eure is chair of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition. The 36-year-old Newark native is also employed by Rutgers-Newark as a social worker.
How she got here: In 2010, Eure’s former boyfriend and close friend was gunned down on Newark’s South 12th Street because he owed someone $100. “It was the first person I lost to gun violence. It was so hurtful, particularly since the perpetrator wasn’t prosecuted. He got away with murder and he’ll do it again.”
At that point, Eure decided she needed to do something for the family and about the situation in general, joining the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, which attempts to raise awareness of the repercussions of bloodshed on families and the community.
The Newark Anti-Violence Coalition: In 2009, a high school principal named Ras Baraka -- now the city’s mayor -- reacted to the shooting of Nakeisha Allen, a woman who had been walking along Meeker and Elizabeth Avenue in the South Ward, by rallying community leaders.
“Baraka was outraged there was no outrage,” Eure said, and for 155 weeks the coalition led street rallies near the scenes of violence.
Eure said the coalition has changed strategies now that Baraka is mayor and there is a new police director in place, acting less aggressively. The group feels more involved and communicates with the cops, she explained, rather than having some people in the community call the police because the group was blocking traffic.
The new policy is to concentrate on community engagement, with a weekly support group and visits to schools, college campuses, and juvenile detention centers.
“Our message is about having civic responsibilities, how violence creates a cycle of violence and breaks up families and causes people to return to jail,” Eure commented. “We tell kids it’s about power and control and try to get them to think about what they are trying to control and what power they are seeking -- and if there is another way. We also try to get them to see how domestic violence, bullying, and verbal abuse escalates and how substance abuse and identity issues are often the cause of the violence.
Her first loss, not her last: While her former boyfriend’s murder shocked her to action, she has continued to be impacted by guns. A lifelong friend from her neighborhood asked her to serve as his emergency contact while in jail, and she helped him sort out medical issues since his mother had died. Just days after being released from prison he was shot dead while playing cards sitting on a front porch.
Eure’s brother has also had close calls with guns. Once he was shot in the leg and ran to safety. But the incident traumatized her, and forced her to relocate since the shooter had used her to find her brother’s whereabouts.
Her philosophy: “We understand that violence has been around since time began, but we should be able to contain and control it so it doesn’t affect women and children. The coalition might not be able to solve gang violence or street justice -- we’re not naïve. But we need to find better ways to resolve conflict so it doesn’t spill out into innocent lives. The first place you go shouldn’t be to kill someone and destroy families.”
Background: Eure, who is single, is an active community organizer who likes to read and travel. She has a knack for leadership -- she founded a sorority for black and Latina students at Ramapo College (Beta Kappa Sigma) that now has five chapters in regional colleges. She lives in Newark’s West Ward and works as a case manager and counselor for the homeless, finding them housing and dealing with mental-health and substance-abuse issues.