Many people already know Oronde McClain’s story. In fact, Cherri Gregg of WHYY is one of the journalists that has shared it. Shortly after being interviewed by Cherri, Oronde returned with a different request. He wanted her help doing some of his own reporting as part of The Credible Messenger Reporting Project at The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting. This would involve her coaching and collaborating as he produced a story.
At first, she hesitated. Though an experienced community affairs reporter with deep concern about Philadelphia’s challenges surrounding gun violence, Cherri had a number of projects on her plate, and she was concerned about taking on something new. But, in the end, she agreed to be part of the project. She understood its importance.
The process was illuminating for both Oronde and Cherri. He entered the project planning to, as he says, “expose the city for how they don’t help survivors.” She, impressed by the way Oronde’s experience generated “built in empathy” with interview subjects, gently guided him in drafting questions, taught him how to conduct a thorough and efficient interview, and watched as he created the story he wanted to tell. Rooted in interviews with three survivors – Free, Leon, and Samaj – Oronde’s project (They Don’t Care About Us, or Do They?, with video producer Brett Williams) centers the human side of gun violence.
Still retraumatized when he watches the local news – police tape, blood, and shell casings can all resurface trauma for victims of firearm violence – Oronde chose to focus on stories of resilience and recovery. He shared the longitudinal view so rarely seen in the media these days. This approach is particularly powerful in his conversation with Samaj who, like Oronde, was shot at just ten years old. Oronde knows his own healing journey has been long and often lonely.
While Oronde shaped the story he wanted to tell, Cherri saw a transformation happening before her eyes. “He’s smart. He’s driven. He’s unafraid,” she says. Oronde realized that people cared about gun violence, but many were too traumatized to advocate for themselves. Some felt they had no voice. By connecting with survivors, he knew others could “get healing and step up.” This project, Oronde says, “totally changed me. Before, I was just so angry. Now, I’m motivated and much happier.”
Oronde, now The Center’s Credible Messenger Newsroom Liaison, will use that motivation to continue walking with Samaj. “He has a long way to go,” Oronde says knowingly, “but I never had a survivor to talk to. He always will.”
Between now and the end of 2022, The Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting aims to raise $15,000 and enlist ten new monthly donors. This campaign – New. Needed. Now. – will profile those working with The Center to advance empathic, ethical, and impactful journalism through research, improved journalistic practices, credible messenger reporting, and solutions-oriented convenings about Philadelphia’s gun violence crisis . Please consider making a gift today.