By Annie Wong ’19
Khari Edwards, Vice President of External Affairs for Brookdale University Hospital and Medical Center and Midwood alumnus, visited the school to speak about the effects of crimes on our community. He has a background in politics and community development throughout New York City. His job as V.P of External Affairs is to promote the public image of BUHMC and advance its sustainability.
“I do the public relations, the marketing, the government relations, and the business development at Brookdale Hospital. We are a level I trauma center,” Edwards said.
He made sure everyone understood what he was saying by explaining what traumas are and what a level I trauma center is. A trauma is a life-threatening injury or wound that requires immediate attention. A level I trauma center is the highest level available; it has a large variety of specialists and is usually available 24/7.
Throughout his speech, Edwards was interactive with the audience; he asked questions and even used theatrics. He listed the common traumas that BUHMC usually deals with and asked if anyone could list any other traumas. He mentioned car accidents, heart attacks, and strokes, but his speech focused on gunshot victims.
“What I basically do at Brookdale Hospital is that I receive, maybe a little less, 255 gunshot victims a year.” Edwards said. “The reason I am here today – the reason why Ms. Rowe asked me to come – is because I do a big gun violence program called It Starts Here.”
“It Starts Here” is a gun violence program, created by BUHMC, that educates students about the long-term and short-term effects of gun violence on the victims and the communities. The program allows students from surrounding schools to visit Brookdale and tour the morgues, listen to lectures, and listen to personal stories from guest speakers. The goal of “It Starts Here” is to show students that they have a decision to make; go the right way and do great things, or go the wrong way and potentially end up a gunshot victim.
“It Starts Here tries to educate young people about the issues of gun violence, how to avoid gun violence, and how to make gun violence real in your life. Some of you were in here before but this is basically how I start my program,” Edwards said, lifting up a nearby table and slamming it down, which surprised some students. “I start my program like that as a simulation of gunshots.”
Edwards asked if anyone played video games in which the character dies and wakes up the next day, and many hands shoot up. “That’s fun, but the reality of it is if all of a sudden, you get one of these,” he said, slamming the table down again, “penetrating your heart, your lungs, your head… you think you’re waking up? Probably not.”
“What I’m trying to do for you guys is I try to wake you up to the realities of what happens if you get shot. 255 gunshot victims a year; some of them can be avoided and some of them can’t be avoided, some of them are through robberies, and some of them are from just being a bystander,” he said.
“I went to Midwood almost over 30 years ago. In 1989, there was a young lady named Tondelayo Alfred. She was a cheerleader here. McDonalds, even now, was the place where all the Midwood kids hung out, so did the junction kids, the Madison kids, and the Sheepshead Bay kids,” Edwards said. “So she’s sitting at McDonalds, minding her own business, with her friends and a couple other people from Madison. Somebody with beef with the kid from Madison walks by, looks through the window, and he decides to pull out a gun. He shot into McDonalds – the bullet hits off the table and she catches it. She’s dead.”
According to The New York Times, Tondelayo Alfred was with her younger sister and two other people at the McDonalds at 2145 Nostrand Avenue, when she was shot and killed by Rodney Evans, also known as Rodney Jenkins, at 6:30 PM. According to witnesses, Evans followed an unidentified man who he had a dispute with and fired four shots with a 9-mm semiautomatic handgun.
Edwards started to list common guns, and he asked if anyone could name any.
“Glock 9 is what the police use. You have a 38, a 22, and a 25. Those guns are what young kids are using to kill other young kids, because they can be concealed and dropped quickly.” he said. “Part of what my role here is and what we are trying to do with the program I’ve started, is to make sure that you guys are safe and to make sure that you avoid what looks like a bad situation.”
Edwards went back to talking more about his program, “It Starts Here.” He continued to interact with the audience by asking what people thought the age range of the victims he saw everyday was. Many people answered 16 to 19 or teens. He surprised the audience by saying the actual range, which is 12 to around 40.
He gave two reasons for starting “It Starts Here.” The first reason was because his son was nearly shot on the train because someone wanted his phone, but he didn’t have the phone that he liked. The person with the gun left him alone and went to someone else who had the phone he liked.
Edwards said, “The second reason I started the program: I’m coming outside my office, which is right in the lobby, and as soon as I come into the lobby, the entire lobby smells like marijuana. They just brought a kid in, a kid on a stretcher, and they rush him into the emergency room. Part of my job is to make sure the media’s not there and that we handle the cops. So I go into the emergency room. Does anybody want to play my victim?”
A student came up to be the victim; he laid down on the table in the front of the room. Other students came up to play the police officer, the doctor, the trauma team, and the victim’s friend. The students demonstrated what happens in trauma centers everyday.
“The police officer comes in and wants to speak to the victim and the victim’s friend. At the same time, they are trying to save his life,” Edwards said. “When it becomes a gunshot issue, it becomes a crime. Sometimes cops don’t care about saving a life as much as they worry about finding out what happened. We get security and we have to move the cops out.”
Edwards explained how the victim ended up getting shot. He was driving in a Mercedes Benz that was worth at least $100k, and he gets shot in the kidney. When he arrived at Brookdale, the trauma team had to cut his clothes in order to locate the penetrating trauma. While they are doing that, $50k in cash falls out of his pockets.
“When you come into our emergency room, you are as though you are born: a naked child. The reason why is because we have to save your life, so all those possessions does not matter if you are now a victim of gun violence,” Edwards said. “Eighteen years old, his whole life ahead of him, and he’s dead. Because of one bullet wound that went through his kidney, through his stomach and lodged in his heart. When we pulled the bullet out of his heart, the heart explodes.”
“Part of what we do in our program is we bring in the trauma team to explain you guys what the reality of gun violence is. Too many times you think that you can get shot many times and you live. It’s not the reality,” He said.
Edwards’ program shows students gunshot wounds in the head, the heart, and even in the eye. They also show students what happens if someone lives after getting shot in the stomach; they have to use a colostomy bag for the rest of their life.
“Part of what we try to explain to you guys is this: gun violence is real,” Edwards said.