In 2017 we saluted Robert Gore, MD, emergency department physician and founder and executive director of the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI).
Dr. Robert Gore, a Brooklyn native, deals regularly with the impact of violence on his community as an emergency department physician at NYC Health + Hospitals/Kings County. He treats far too many victims of gun shots and stabbings, and sees the long-term behavioral health issues that are both the result, and cause, of living surrounded by violence. “These are people that look like my family, my neighbors. I can’t stand by and act like it doesn’t matter,” he says. Instead, he recruited a team of volunteers, many of them fellow doctors, and launched the Kings Against Violence Initiative (KAVI), a hospital-, school-, and community-based intervention and prevention program for young people and their families in Brooklyn affected by violence and conflict.
Rob got the germ of the idea for KAVI in 2005 during his ED residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. There was a growing awareness among medical experts that violence is not just a police matter but a public health crisis that requires health-based solutions. “I started doing a lot of research, looking at different violence intervention programs and exploring a best-practices approach,” he says.
In 2006 Rob arrived at Kings County and adjacent SUNY Downstate Medical Center; he is an attending physician at both, and clinical assistant professor of emergency medicine at Downstate. At Kings County he launched a summer mentoring program for young medical students of color, which he still runs, and charged the students with developing an innovative violence intervention program; KAVI is based on their work. In 2011 he convinced colleagues, friends, and family to volunteer their time, put up his own money for materials, and got the George Wingate Educational Complex, a four-high-school campus near the hospital, to let him start his program.
KAVI began with just four students, each referred by school officials because they were at risk of violent behavior. The volunteers offered tutoring and mentoring at the school and behavioral health services at the hospital, and connected the teens with needed social services. By the end of that first year 50 teens had signed up for the program; many of them are now in college, including one young man who is a second-year medical student at Brown University.
After two years, The Fund for NYC Health + Hospitals provided a critical seed grant, its first. KAVI has expanded its services to include art and photography classes, conflict mediation training, restorative justice workshops, and a summer day camp. It now works with students from five high schools and middle schools in Brooklyn, as well as young adults, serving about 200 people a year. “We are teaching them self-esteem, and giving them the tools to resolve conflicts without aggression and become change agents in their communities,” Rob says. “They are learning that they don’t have to be the problem kid.”
He tells of one student who seemed a particularly hard case—a gang member who was regularly truant from school. But the teen opened up to his KAVI mentor, and it turned out that he lived in a homeless shelter and missed school whenever his violent stepfather visited, because he wanted to protect his younger siblings. That student eventually won a scholarship to the International Center for Photography.
KAVI still operates primarily with volunteers, but its success has attracted the attention of funders, including the Emergency Medical Physicians of Brooklyn Foundation, The Fund for Health + Hospitals, The Mayor’s Fund, The Pinkerton Foundation, Trinity Church, Brooklyn Community Foundation, and WellMet Philanthropy. KAVI is also a partner of The Fund for Health + Hospitals’ Guns Down Life Up initiative, which brings together public health experts from across the hospital system and community organizations to prevent and interrupt the cycle of violence.
When Rob was an undergraduate at Morehouse College, he saw a t-shirt that read “Lead, follow, or get out of my way.” Those words stayed with him. “It’s important that doctors become activists and change agents instead of assuming that the problems affecting marginalized groups are going to fix themselves,” he says.
On behalf of the health care community and all of New York, United Hospital Fund honors Dr. Robert Gore for his extraordinary work in moving health care beyond the walls of the hospital, for saving lives before violence can cut them short, and for developing a program that is inclusive, innovative, and a model for community-focused interventions nationwide.
Reprinted from the 2017 United Hospital Fund Gala program.