Live Free


Ending Gun Violence: A Look at the Work of LIVE FREE

Levi Strauss & Co.
September 6, 2019

A year ago this week, we affirmed our commitment to ending gun violence by launching the Safer Tomorrow Fund, designed to fuel grassroots organizations nationwide working tirelessly toward that very goal.

One of those organizations is LIVE FREE, a movement of interfaith groups committed to stemming the causes of violence in communities of color. In the last year of its partnership with LS&Co., the organization has played to its strengths, leveraging storytelling to effect change, deploying new fieldwork approaches to curbing gun violence, and tapping into the unique power of faith leaders to unite communities behind a cause. As the call for solutions to gun violence grows, their work is more important than ever.

The group points to successes in cities like Oakland, which has seen gun violence rates drop for six straight years, and Sacramento, which had no youth homicides in 2018 for the first time in 35 years.

When people don’t live with the horrors of violence in their day-to-day, it can be hard to grasp the impact on individuals who have suffered its lasting impact. One way LIVE FREE brought broader awareness was through its Hearing the Unheard video storytelling series, which centers on gun violence victims, perpetrators and others who have been impacted.

There needs to be an investment to support communities… because you can’t police your way out of gun violence. – Cierra Bates, Chicago, #HearingtheUnheard

Tapping into the faith community

LIVE FREE is led by Pastor Michael McBride, who is also a member of the Levi Strauss Foundation’s Pioneers in Justice, Pioneers 2020 – social-justice leaders innovating in their own unique ways through the power of networks and technology. Known widely as Pastor Mike, he and the LIVE FREE team don’t partner exclusively with communities of faith but have found that faith leaders are key stakeholders in the conversation around gun violence.

#IAMAPEACEMAKER Sabbaths, another cornerstone of the work done this past year, is one of the efforts that came out of this realization. Sabbaths are week-long activities in which clergy affiliated with LIVE FREE commit to teaching, preaching, praying and acting to stop gun violence.

So far, Sabbaths have taken place in 40 congregations across 20 cities, according to LIVE FREE spokesperson Jennifer Farmer, noting a particular uptick in community organizing and outreach after the shooting death of rapper, entrepreneur and activist Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles this spring. In the wake of the most recent mass shootings in Ohio and Texas, Farmer says LIVE FREE remains committed to focusing awareness around gun violence in urban communities and communities of color.

The 10-10-10 challenge is another concrete activity that puts time frames around actions, encouraging clergy and faith leaders to do 10 things in 10 days, 10 weeks, and 10 months to curb gun violence. The idea is to take concrete steps in the short- medium- and long-term, in service to grieving or under-invested communities.

Incorporating the youth

LIVE FREE provides training, but Farmer notes that the organization also serves as a fulcrum point that connects young people with other leaders in their communities. For example, this year, LIVE FREE partnered with the Black Church PAC and the Young Leaders’ Conference to host a forum with candidates running for president in 2020. The forum connected candidates with faith leaders to discuss issues impacting their communities, and to hear the candidates’ plans for addressing those issues. More than 5,000 black millennials, a key cohort in the movement, took part.

One of the unsung elements of LIVE FREE’s work is regranting millions of dollars of grants and resources to local organizers working every day on the frontlines to reduce gun violence and save lives.  By amplifying the work and voice of these unseen and the unheard Peacemakers, we remind them of the value of their sacred work. These communications approaches help amplify names of people who can be helpful, other ideas for events and reinforce an important message: You’re not alone, and there are ways for you to move the needle.