Road to Washington : Meeting Michelle Obama

Copyright Ken Berry, Portland, Oregon

Teressa Raiford's search for change

Entrepreneur and business development consultant Teressa Raiford was recently invited to the White House ahead of the State of the Union address and met with the First Lady to discuss gun violence.

Raiford, who has worked extensively in the entertainment industry has long been a strong supporter of various charitable organizations including Unite Women and the Fuller Center for Housing. In recent times, we’ve witnessed some horrific scenes of gun violence that has shocked America and this is something that Teressa wishes to address.

Back in September 2010, Raiford’s 19-year-old nephew, Andre Payton was shot and killed in Portland in a hail of bullets outside a nightclub. Since that day, Raiford has actively pursued an end to gun violence that has taken the lives of so many innocent people of all ages. In memory of her nephew, Raiford has championed a positive movement to support dialogue to bring an end to senseless violence.

Recently, the Newtown massacre and the Batman shootings spurred a national debate on gun crime and many entertainment personalities and public figures spoke out about the violence.

From Mayor Bloomberg’s recently launched media campaign to Snoop Lion’s new anti-violence message in ‘No Guns Allowed’, a broad spectrum of people from all walks of life are beginning to re-examine the gun culture that has featured so prominently in American life, and what can be done to prevent further bloodshed.

In search for that answer, Raiford is working closely with Mayors Against Illegal Guns on the ‘Demand a Plan’ campaign to create meaningful change. Testifying this week in Salem at a hearing discussing new gun control legislation, Raiford spoke out about how people were able to buy stolen guns easily on the streets.

It is with great privilege that I present to you Teressa Raiford’s personal account of her trip to the White House and her meeting with the First Lady. Discover how you can join her, and support your local community.

Interview with Teressa Raiford

Iain: Having worked for many years in the entertainment industry, what made you decide to pursue activism, and where do you find the time?

Teressa: I was visiting my hometown Portland, Oregon in September of 2010 when my nephew was murdered on the streets in a downtown district called Old Town. I used the skills I acquired in other parts of the nation working with major artists and other professionals in the entertainment industry. The plan is to address social justice and poverty/class and economic issues by engaging with local government to build resource and perspective based programs using events and media to promote civic engagement and communication to a disconnected community. This is to provide dialogue and furnish informational access to local resource providers and advocacy agents. I believe most gun violence that affects youth in America is directly tied to poverty and lack of economic resources. Communities suffering from severe illiteracy, lack of jobs, and access to sustainable housing, with hungry children, have high rates of crime, period. Most locally based grassroots advocates and organizations seem to be overshadowed in regards to being eligible for Federal and state funding due to preferred vendor programs with larger more public charities.

My opinion is that a redirect of funding back to service providers and community based non-profits and businesses is the only key to addressing community violence and is the real definition of "Community Engagement." I am using my experience to do my part in making that happen here in Portland and hopefully partner with others across the nation to build a movement.

Iain: Gun laws are a big topic in America right now. A lot of public figures have spoken both for and against tighter gun legislation. What's your view on it?

Teressa: My view is that the only way to truly address these issues is for Victim Survivors of all backgrounds along with NRA and Pro Gun Advocates to meet together in a summit and build dialogue that leads to resolutions. Begin a consensus or dialogue that we can all consider and negotiate. The politicians and lobbying process seems to me like putting the cart before the wheel if families aren't in direct dialogue with both sides. I am not anti gun but I am pro legislation for tighter laws.

I support gun violence prevention bill (S.649/H.R. 137) because it will save lives. This legislation requires that all firearm sellers conduct enforceable background checks on gun buyers. Congress should pass it now.

(You can download this letter to Senator Wyden and Merkley along with several State representatives.)

Iain: What are the issues that you highlighted in your meeting with the First Lady, and can you reveal a little on what she spoke about with you?

Teressa-raiford-michelle-obama-2013Teressa: First of all let me say that First Lady Michelle Obama was very gracious with her time on the eve of the State of the Union Address. There was no rush in the meeting with families. She along with Bruce Reed, and White House adviser Valerie Jarrett exchanged contact information and contacts for partnership development and follow up support for families that help in building solutions to gun violence with access to the means to help make efforts effective.

Iain: In your view what kind of legislation is needed that would ensure protection for all?

Teressa: Universal Gun Checks on all sales or a ban on private un-documented sales.

Iain: Mayor Bloomberg recently launched a $12 million media campaign with an anti-gun message. Do you feel that America as a society needs to take a closer look at the national implications of gun culture?
We Americans need to re-evaluate our values. In my opinion guns are promoted as “luxury items”. In America, buying products with little value for an expensive price requires that the purchaser pay a “Luxury Tax.” In America our luxury tax for gun ownership is paid by the blood of our youth and especially those whose only exposure to America’s culture of “luxury” is the gun that is obtained legally in their poverty stricken neighborhoods.

Iain: How can people get involved to support you?

Teressa: Contact your legislator or begin a discussion within your networks which does not place blame on a certain viewpoint but which fosters a dialogue that can lead to resolution.

Special thanks to Jen Maler who went along with Teressa to provide photos for the trip. If you want to learn more about gun violence, check out President Obama’s plan via the White House website for more details.

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