Tampa is known for many things, from Gasparilla to MacDill Air Force Base to Super Bowl and Stanley Cup champions. But there are some things we don’t want Tampa to be known for — and that includes the growing problem of gun violence.
Even before this year hit its halfway point, there had been more than 370 crimes involving guns in Tampa. Of those crimes, about two dozen were homicides and more than 230 were non-fatal shootings. At the same time last year, amid the pandemic, Tampa had logged just 14 homicides. Think about that: Two dozen families have had to bury loved ones not from COVID-19, but because of a different kind of epidemic — gun violence — in our city so far this year.
Unfortunately, the threat of gun violence isn’t unique to Tampa. In an average year, 2,752 people die and 4,270 are wounded by guns across Florida. That’s an average of seven families per day losing a loved one to guns. We cannot continue on without addressing the gun violence epidemic, for the sake of so many Floridians who have died or have been wounded, and for their loved ones.
A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention correctly called gun violence a “public health crisis in the making.” And like most public health crises, the effects are unevenly distributed. The CDC reports that Black males ages 15 to 34 are killed in 37% of gun homicides, even though they constitute just 2% of the nation’s population. They are also 20 times more likely than their white counterparts to die from a bullet entering their body.
Looking at those numbers, it’s clear that we must actively work together to make a difference and reduce gun violence in any way we can. Everyone has a different path to making a difference. One way is to make your opinion heard by lawmakers. Another is to get involved in a local or national organization that fights for gun reform (just Google it!). Many individuals donate financial or other resources, while others use their social capital to make a difference.
The Farah & Farah law firm recently announced its second annual Empowering Greatness Scholarship Program, which brings together the Florida Prepaid College Foundation and Goodwill Industries of North Florida to pay for a two-year college education for deserving students from communities impacted by gun violence. By paving a path out of challenging socioeconomic conditions, this program will make a difference for some Florida families suffering from America’s gun violence epidemic. To be eligible for an Empowering Greatness Scholarship, students must attend a public or charter school in the Tampa, Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Ocala, Gainesville or Orlando areas.
Six respected local leaders serve as judges to select our scholarship recipients. Applicants are prompted to reflect on how their pursuit of higher education will help them overcome challenges they’ve faced. Applications are due by Sept. 10, and the winners will be announced on Oct. 15. The free application is available here. We can’t solve the devastating problem of gun violence alone.
People in every corner of our diverse country need to do what they can within their own communities. While this scholarship program cannot change our entire community, it can — and will — make an important difference. It is up to each of us, in our own way, to reverse the course of gun violence in America.
Candace Hartley is an attorney at Farah & Farah’s Tampa office. Carlos Valdes is the AMIKids Tampa Executive Director and an Empowering Greatness Scholarship judge.