In a community where everyone knows everyone, losing one of you can feel like losing part of yourself.
And when many others were injured at the same time in the community center, the pain persists long after the accident.
This is how the vast majority of Taft community members feel after Sherika Bowler was killed and eight others were injured in a shooting at the Memorial Day weekend festival in the city center, and two weeks after the shooting, a local civil rights organization doing what they want can pick up the pieces.
“Even the smallest gestures in times like these help people know you care,” said Reverend Rodger Cutler, president of the NAACP’s Muskogee Branch, which is starting programs within Muskogee County to make its safer communities. “We want to make sure (Taft) doesn’t get lost in the mix.”
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The NAACP will focus on gun violence and mental health, the former with an arms buyback program in partnership with local law enforcement and community leaders, and the latter with an upcoming mental health forum with the Department of Health of the Muskogee County.
“Project Rescue Muskogee County,” the arms buyback program, is a long-term initiative in partnership with the Muskogee County Sheriff’s Office and the Muskogee Police Department that will hopefully make communities safer. of Muskogee County, Cutler said, who hopes it can prevent even a lifetime from being caught in gun violence.
“If we take even one gun off the street, it could save a life,” he said. “We believe what Dr. (Martin Luther) King said: it’s always the right time to do the right thing. This is one of the greatest opportunities we can offer Muskogee County residents to do the right thing. “
The Muskogee County Rescue project, which is still in the early stages of development, will be completely voluntary and anonymous, Cutler said, and organizers hope to raise enough funds to pay $ 100 for each gun and $ 250 for each “assault rifle. “.
The second initiative, the Mental Health Forum, is scheduled for Thursday and will bring area behavioral health professionals to the Martin Luther King Center, 300 W. Martin Luther King St. in Muskogee, to discuss trauma in children after severe accidents and the stigma around mental health in black communities.
Cutler said organizers had been planning the forum for a while in the wake of national tragedies, but that the shooting in Taft has accelerated the need.
“Our main focus was on the stigma of mental health, particularly in the black community,” Cutler said. “We are taught that it is only a part of life, but it is actually something that we have to focus on and focus on.”
After the shooting in Taft, in which many children saw bullets rain down on their families and even other children, Cutler said it was imperative to address the symptoms of trauma in children.
“The children were traumatized because the bullets went off in Taft,” Cutler said. “We want our children to feel safe so they can still go out and have fun and participate in life and not be afraid to live in their own community.”
Taking inspiration from King again, Cutler said the Muskogee NAACP is doing what it can to make sure Taft residents and shooting victims know they are important to someone.
“Dr. King said it best when he said, ‘Our lives start to end when we keep quiet about what matters,’ “Cutler said.” Our children matter. Taft matters. We can’t wait; now we have to take care of these things. because people’s lives have been affected now. “