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'My young kings are on the wrong end of it.' Remembering the victims of the UVA shooting

UVA Shooting Victims 2022
UVA Athletic Department
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Ahmad Hawkins is a former UVA football player, a current sideline commentator, and he works to mentor the players who have come up through the program.

He woke up at 3 am Monday to multiple texts.

“I think my tear ducts are dried up right now because I’ve just been crying since 3 o’clock,” he said when I talked to him Monday.

He was shocked to hear the news that three of UVA’s football team – students Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis, and D’Sean Perry – had been shot and killed Sunday night.

“I just hugged Lavel Saturday at the game. Just like hugged him tight," Hawkins remembered. "I didn’t know that would be the last time I ever hugged him. Never knew it be the last time I’d wink my eye at D’Sean. You know in between series of the game. Like, who would have thought that?  Saturday was the last time I physically touched Lavel Davis.”  

But on Monday Hawkins was thinking not just of those three UVA players, all of whom were Black, but also of a local high-school student he works with. Another young Black man who had recently been shot. “You know we all know a lot of times it just depends on who you are and what you do for folks to pay attention. Is this what’s going to make people really pay attention to the city and just gun violence as a whole?” 

In 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control, young Black men represented 2% of the U.S. population but accounted for almost 40% of all gun homicides.

“What I’m thinking about is the disproportionate effect of gun violence on the Black community in America. Being played out right in front of us," said Kathryn Laughon, an associate professor of nursing at UVA.

Laughon said faculty has already begun to meet and plan for how best to make space for students to heal, many of whom were on lockdown for about 12 hours after the shooting took place on a charter bus with students returning from a trip.

“And our hearts break right? For the families of the kids who were killed and the ones who were injured. But there was a bus full of students who watched that," Laughon noted. "There’s a community of students who love these kids who are traumatized, who are hurting from this. And so the effect of this kind of violence is so much bigger than just the people who are most directly injured.”

Laughon says trauma like that can have mental and physical health impacts. But she adds that community connection and resources like counseling can help prevent chronic injury, including post-traumatic stress disorder. “So I think we need to be reaching out, texting our friends, checking in with your friends. Making sure our basic needs are met. Have we eaten? Do we need to sleep? We were all up all night, those kinds of things.”

UVA’s counseling and psychological services office is open for walk-ins. Staff have also been stationed at different locations on campus for student support.

Ahmad Hawkins would like to see more of that for the community outside campus grounds as well.

“Mental health is real and we gotta start to really create safe spaces for people to share that they’re hurting," Hawkins told me. "Because a lot of times I know as an African American male we’re not allowed to share our hurt and our feelings. So we keep them bottled up and it becomes rage and it comes up in the wrong way. And my young kings are on the wrong end of it.”

A Family and Community Assistance Center has been set up to provide mental health services. Services will be provided on the corner of Edgemont and McCormick at 505 Edgemont Rd.

Students may call Counseling and Psychological Services at 434-243-5150, 24 hours a day. Faculty and staff can find a similar resource through the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program by calling 434-243-2643.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Mallory Noe-Payne is Radio IQ's Richmond reporter and bureau chief.