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New East Atlanta Village community center aims to tackle root causes of gun violence

The Reverend Timothy McDonald III Community Outreach Center will house 12 non-profits under one roof in East Atlanta Village.

ATLANTA — A new community center is set to open its doors on Friday, one that brings together 12 non-profits for a top-to-bottom effort aimed at tackling gun violence in Atlanta.

The Reverend Timothy McDonald III Community Outreach Center in East Atlanta Village will have an official ribbon cutting Friday. Its goal is to bring together services such as grief counseling, violence prevention and mental wellness all together under one roof.

It will be located at First Iconium Baptist Church at 542 Moreland Ave. SE.

The brainchild of Black Push CEO, founder and president Shaun Smith, it will house 12 non-profits uniting in addressing the root causes of gun violence in Atlanta.

His organization began turning toward gun violence as a focus after Smith traveled to the sites of shootings in places such as Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas to see the community responses there. He said he realized his organization could make a change from the bottom-up in Atlanta.

"As I began to look at it, I began to realize that most of the issues we're having, when it came to gun violence, were community issues, and they start in the community. We can resolve them in the community," he said. "So just decided to shift our focus from being so government based, asking the government to solve all our problems, and saying let's take a community approach to this."

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Backers of the new center include mothers who have lost children to gun violence and have become advocates in the effort to address the problem.

That includes Tiffany Smith, the mother of 15-year-old Cameron Jackson, who died days after being shot in November in an incident where gunfire broke out near Atlantic Station.

"Coming into this space, it's empowering," she said. "It's a place of hope, a place of support. It's becoming a place where, in your mind, when you're going through something, you think about - okay, this is where I go. Because when you're going through something and you're in that shock state, you don't know where to go, what to do, who to call. And I think having one central location will be great."

One of the non-profits setting up shop at the center is Jared's Heart of Success. Sharmaine Brown founded the organization after losing her son Jared in 2015. It is now entering its eighth year of operation, and she said the new center would help her take a new step in her work.

"I'm very thankful to have the partnership, to be able to continue and work with the local community. When I initially started, I started in Stone Mountain, and I knew that Atlanta - where Jared actually was killed, in southwest Atlanta - was an area that really needed the work. And at the time when I initially started I thought, 'oh this is too early,' just didn't have the strength to do it," she said. "But now going into the eighth year, I truly feel that I am ready to move forward."

In December, Tiffany Smith vowed to be a part of the process that addresses the systemic issues contributing to gun violence.

"Listening to the other mother speak about not having the resources, you know in my situation we had all the resources," she said, noting she had homeschooled her son and taken him to boxing practice to give him the environment to thrive. "The one thing that we were unable to deal with was the community, the environment, the city. And that right there is something that I'm committed to transforming in Atlanta."

The Reverend Timothy McDonald III Community Outreach Center will now give her the home base to begin to do that.

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