Bellomy's Gun Violence Survivor Network, which will host a public meeting at the Hilltop Library on Thursday, aims to connect with families left reeling in the wake of gun death

Prior to the October 2017 death of his father, Erick Bellomy engaged heavily in community activism, driven to push for large-scale societal change by the 2016 election of President Donald Trump.

But after his father was shot and killed in a drug deal gone bad, Bellomy retreated from public view, overcome by grief and unaware of public resources available to trauma survivors. In an early February interview, Bellomy said the loss might have consumed him had he not been shaken from his stasis by the February 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the subsequent gun control rallies that sprouted nationwide. In March 2018, Bellomy spearheaded a local branch of March for Our Lives, an event that took place subsequently in Washington D.C. and more than 800 other locations across the country.

“When my dad died, I disappeared. … And then when Parkland happened, I think that seeing the Parkland families cry, that made me relive my trauma, and my dad’s experience,” Bellomy said. “So when I heard about March for Our Lives, I reached out and we started one here. … March for Our Lives took me away from trying to cope with my own feelings and focused me on [something larger]. In a way, it kind of saved me.”

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In the weeks following the rally, Bellomy started to look for ways to continue his mission, determined to offer support to survivors of gun violence, who, from his own experience, can sometime feel forgotten in the wake of tragedy.

Using this idea as a jumping-off point, Bellomy founded the Gun Violence Survivor Network (GVSN). On a practical level, the organization aims to connect families touched by gun violence with available resources. But on a more basic human level, the group, which has four board members, including Bobbi McCalla, the sister of the late Donna Dalton, lets those stung by loss know that they are both seen and heard. The group, which was registered as a nonprofit in March 2019, will host a public meeting at the Columbus Metropolitan Library in Hilltop on Thursday, Feb. 13.

For Bellomy, the key word in the organization’s name is “Network,” and he operates with awareness that gun violence is a complex, seemingly insurmountable issue that will require strong community partnerships to even begin to address. Already in 2020, Columbus has seen a notable spike in gun violence, including a rise in homicides when compared with the same time period in 2019, and a 56 percent increase in felonious assaults involving a firearm. Since forming, GVSN has partnered with organizations such as South Side Leadership Academy (Bellomy, born and raised on the city’s South Side, is an alumnus of the program), Moms Demand Action, Church for All People and Everytown for Gun Safety, among others.

“We can’t do it alone,” Bellomy said. “We need multiple people in the fight.”

Working with partners, Bellomy established a program to give free gun locks to anyone who requests one, no questions asked, and he said every lock given away is a potential life saved. GVSN is also planning a billboard campaign, aiming to have awareness-raising images stationed on Parsons, Sullivant and Cleveland avenues. Longer term, Bellomy would like to be able to provide financial assistance to affected families, specifically helping to purchase headstones for loved ones lost to gun violence. Further initiatives will be driven by community response, and Bellomy said GVSN’s mission will evolve based on meetings like the one at the Hilltop library on Thursday.

“Our mission could change depending on how a family feels, or how a person feels,” said Bellomy, who inherited his sense of community from his mother, who urged him to “be a voice for the voiceless” and pushed him to volunteer from a young age. “I’ve said that, yes, I founded the organization, but it’s not an organization for me. It’s an organization where everybody can have a voice. It's an organization where everybody can have a say ... and we can all come together to make a difference."