CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — The U.S. has lost nearly 18,000 people to gun violence of all causes in 2023 and with only six months into the year, the nation has already had 269 mass shootings, according to

Locally, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings says there have been 2,300 victims of gun violence so far this year, but 31,000 victims of gun violence over the last five years.

“The true number of victims can’t be counted. It’s immeasurable,” Jennings said in a gun violence press conference on Friday. 

Families of loved ones lost to gun violence filled The Watershed Church on Shenandoah Drive, wearing orange in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day. 

For them, they’re victims of gun violence as well, losing family members to either death or jail as a result of guns.

Youth Advocate Programs, a national nonprofit organization, is working to reduce the amount of violence in some underserved Charlotte neighborhoods. They are delivering a program called Alternatives to Violence.

“A program that specifically works on this one road to help curb some of the violence [that] is going on there with a program that started after the big shooting on Beatties Ford Road. And we’ve been decreasing violence as a team,” said Larry Mims, a member of the organization.

They’ve been active since 2020. And after three years of working with people in the community to find other ways to handle threats of violence, Mims is able to say that “We haven’t had a homicide since December 25, 2021”.

The group, led by Leondra Garrett, has about five members — Mims, Garrett, Juan Hall, Donnell Gardner, and Dimitros Jordan — that go into the community daily to meet, listen and offer advice to neighbors and anyone in need. 

“We also do pop-up events and events around the holidays. We do a community event once a month. And we just had a big Mother’s Day event. We got a Father’s Day event coming up. So we try to get the community actively involved in what we got going on,” Mims said. 

The majority of the group has been incarcerated. They use those experiences to teach young people about the dangers of getting involved in crime. 

“I’m giving them real conversations. I’m telling them that you need your education. If you want to have a better life, you need to respect your parents. But most of all, I’m just telling them to learn to respect themselves and love themselves and understand that you only have one life and there’s no reset button on life,” said group member Juan Hall. 

Garrett says as long as they’re working with the neighborhoods, people won’t become desensitized to the national issue.

“We are out in the communities every day, and we talk about gun violence every single day; [it] is not just part of our vocabulary. And so for us, it’s not just this month; it’s every month. And so as long as we’re consistent with the work and bringing up the conversations and having the hard conversations, then it’ll continue on and it won’t stop,” Garrett said.