The following is a story written by The Slate alumna Shannon Long for her senior capstone project. The Slate has decided to publish it now in light of the homicide that occurred just a minute's walk off-campus earlier this year.
Aliyah Mensah’s voice shook as she spoke about her cousin in front of the Old Main fountain at Shippensburg University illuminated by candles held by the audience.
She planned the event, called Living Through You, to honor her cousin, Nasim Alameen, and other loved ones who were lost because of gun violence.
Alameen would have turned 22 years old on Nov. 6, 2018, the day of the event. He was killed two months earlier on Sept. 12. Mensah, a senior at SU, was incredibly close to her cousin. The two grew up in the same house and would see each other during breaks from school.
“We grew up as babies together and were raised in the same household. We played together, and a lot of times I knew his friends from growing up because we lived together,” Mensah said.
Even though Alameen and his siblings would gang up on Mensah because she was an only child, she thought of it as something that created a stronger sibling bond between them.
“Eventually I just thought, ‘We live in the same house, and we’re eventually gonna get on each other’s nerves,’” she said.
Mensah recalled the day that Alameen’s 9-year-old sister told her that he had died.
“I just remember crying. I couldn’t calm down. I wanted to go home immediately. I was ready to drop everything and just go home,” she said.
One of Mensah’s goals was to create a support system for students, and for them to know that they do not have to grieve alone.
She also encouraged people to take a step back when they get into an altercation and remember that there are more ways to settle an argument than turning to a gun, and to think of that person’s family.
Mensah created the Living Through You event with the help of another SU student, Deanna Hatcher.
Hatcher held a gun violence awareness event earlier this year in Philadelphia because she noticed a rise in gun violence during the summer. She focused her earlier event on younger children, trying to encourage them to make good choices.
SU students and faculty members gathered at the Old Main Fountain to support one another at the event. Candles were passed around to those in attendance in honor of loved ones. Mensah asked that anyone who knew Alameen or someone affected by gun violence to speak about it.
Students shared stories about people in their lives who they lost because of gun violence.
Hatcher asked those in attendance to look at the people around them as she began speaking. She urged everyone to treat each other with honor, respect and superiority.
She believes her place in this world is to make an impact on others.
“I want to make a huge difference in my community, but I can’t do this alone. That’s why I called you here,” she said.
Hatcher asked the audience to make better decisions in their lives and to be aware of how they treat one another.
The event closed with a balloon release, but left the door open for conversation about gun violence and its effect on college students.
Mensah reiterated that the event was meant to bring people together if they may be grieving and to raise awareness about gun violence.
“This event isn’t to try to take away anyone’s guns,” Mensah said. “This is not a rally.”
Political science professor Alison Dagnes said the American political system was built to be a system of compromise. She advocates for common sense gun control, but believes that does not mean banning all guns.
“I don’t think anybody’s really demanding anything all that big. I think for a younger generation getting involved in politics, and not holding your nose up at it, is one place to start,” Dagnes said.
She said many people in the U.S. believe gun control is an all-or-nothing deal. Banning guns is not realistic, and would result in a black market that would not allow tracking of guns.
“Throwing up your hands and saying, ‘Oh well, there’s nothing we can do,’ is not the answer to it,” Dagnes said.
Instead of hating each other, she suggested that people come together to figure out a way to compromise about gun control.
Sociology professor Chad Kimmel said there is not a large conversation in U.S. culture about the personal effects of gun violence. The conversation that exists is between people who are completely for or against guns.
“It’s a very divisive issue where people are almost forced to choose sides and they don’t know why they’re choosing one side or the other,” Kimmel said.
He said the fear that comes with gun violence creates quick reactions to end the fear.
“We’re very reactionary as a society, unfortunately, and we don’t do much kind of preventative maintenance,” he said.
Kimmel explained that there is a blame on cultural expressions such as musicians and video games for violence. However, he believes that the U.S. is different from other industrialized countries because America is the newest country using capitalism.
“A system called capitalism means that our process and ways in which we make things and buy things is embedded in the political structure and the economic structure,” he said.
Capitalism’s goal is to achieve more and more. The U.S. built its entire country on the values of capitalism that include aggressiveness and competitiveness.
“As young people, we became that. Our education reflects it. Our political structure reflects it. Everything is reflected by it. So that’s just America,” Kimmel said.
Other countries predate capitalism, and had morals and values established when capitalism was created. They decided to use capitalism, but were able to control what aspects of capitalism they were willing to use when it began to go against their morals and values. The U.S. did not have these values, and instead adopted every aspect of capitalism — even the aggression and competition that came along with it, according to Kimmel.
“That is why we’re so violent, and that is why perceptions and awareness are so hard to garner and raise and muster because it’s us,” Kimmel said.
Alameen was one of 1,296 victims of gun violence in Philadelphia this year. Out of those victims, 254 were shot fatally. The number of shooting victims is up almost 15 percent since last year. Since 2015, there have been 1,279 victims of gun violence between the ages of 18 to 22, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Mensah said she is still in disbelief about her cousin’s death. If she could tell Alameen one thing, she said she would tell him to do better and stay out of trouble — something she said she had told him previously.
“If he were here, I would say that I did see he was trying to turn his life around and become a better person,” she said. “I saw a dramatic change. I knew that he just wanted to be a better person, and I would say I’m proud of him for that because I know he’s a good person at heart.”