A W.A.V.E Against Violence – July 12, 2018
Stephen G. Metelsky
It was April 21st, 2004. A regular day in the city of Toronto. The mother of three parked her car and walked into a local sandwich shop. She would never walk again.
“I just walked in and they opened fire. Bullets shattered the glass,” says Louise Russo, the innocent bystander, caught in the middle of a botched underworld hit involving the mafia and outlaw motorcycle gangs.
The single bullet shattered Russo’s spine, leaving her paralyzed forever. The ripple effect from the California Sandwich shooting reverberates today, fraught with violence and murder. But this story isn’t about them. This is about one woman’s mission and determination to curtail senseless acts of violence in her community. For Russo, ‘violence stopped being a word and became a cause.’
When life gave her lemons, she not only made lemonade, Russo became the C.E.O of her own stand, taking control of her life. But it wasn’t an easy start after the shooting. She persevered with the love and support from her family, friends, and a determination to create change resulting in positive outcomes for her community. “My life was totally destroyed, I took it a day at a time, an hour at a time. But through this journey I have come to really know Louise and who I am, and I love who I am today, much more than before. I am mentally stronger than ever,” says Russo, reflecting about her incredible journey over a cup of tea in a local Toronto coffee shop.
Her sheer strength and determination culminated with a grass roots not-for-profit organization created in 2006 called Louise Russo W.A.V.E. – an acronym for ‘Working Against Violence Everyday.’ W.A.V.E subsequently received its charitable status three years later in 2009. W.A.V.E. works diligently at inspiring youth and members of the community to take action, make positive choices and initiate projects that will make schools and communities a safer place to live, learn and play – reads the mission statement for her organization.
Her outreach to youth in her community extends beyond the sole topic of violence. “When I go into schools I want the students to see the bigger picture. To educate them and create awareness about the impact of violence so they all have a better understanding of it,” says Russo.
Russo has also inspired and motivated youths with mental health issues, learning disabilities, physical disabilities, bullying, and issues with self-esteem. A bigger picture indeed. “I want to give kids the opportunity to express themselves freely,” adds Russo.
Louise sums up her life’s work in one word: Believe. It is inscribed on several leather bracelets she had made. Russo explains her definition of the word: “Believe is just finding that inner strength in you. Regardless of what you’re going through there is always something that can keep you going. To believe I made a difference in the life of a youth. That will make a change in their life and have them believe in themselves.”
In 2010 Russo was appointed to be a board member for the Office for Victims of Crime, an independent advisory board to the Attorney General of Ontario on victim’s issues. Russo is passionate about victim’s rights and creating change. She has an important message for others who have unfortunately been victimized by crime. “Make the most of your life. You are a victim of violent crime but don’t continue to become victimized every day of your life. In time, I hope the victim can create change and eventually be a positive role model and give back.” It is clear Russo lives everyday of her life by these words.
What about the rise in gun violence in Toronto? To date, in 2018 there have been 26 homicides directly attributable to shootings in the city, compared to 17 deaths stemming from gun violence up until July 2017. “It’s horrible. But you can’t live in fear that way. We should always feel we are in a safe environment, but we must look at the root causes, prevention, and support. Let’s look at the people that are causing this, the gangs,” Russo says, adding her support for an increased police presence in Toronto, on the streets and in the schools.
Hours after Russo was interviewed, Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders and Mayor John Tory held a press conference to announce a $3 million operational plan to deploy up to 200 hundred officers throughout the city, dictated by intelligence led policing, to curb the recent spate of gun violence. The eight-week initiative appears to be a short-term solution to an issue requiring a longer-term commitment in the city. “We have to work against violence everyday. Our communities need to be a safer place. Criminals need to be accountable for what they’re involved in. We need to look at some of the root causes of this violence and provide programs for our youth,” says Louise Russo, adding that “I’m thankful for the police.”
To effectively combat gun violence in Toronto a concerted effort needs to be exerted towards this issue continually on all levels: policing, financially and politically. Cutbacks due to reduced incidents and a heightened, yet false sense of security that the violence has dissipated, should be avoided. Russo adds: “We need more police officers to deal with the gangs.” We also need more people like Louise Russo – who exemplify the principles of respect, responsibility, and the role of leadership in their communities.
“I have learned so much from giving. I feel it’s important to give back. It’s been an incredible journey. If we volunteered a little bit of our time,” adds Russo. And time is of the essence in the city of Toronto. It’s time to proactively target the issue of gun violence to reduce victimization in our communities. As Russo attests, “we have to find more ways to make our communities safer. I feel it’s important to give back that way. To give people strength and encouragement.”
Louise Russo is truly inspiring. The interview ended with a W.A.V.E – and a hug.
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Twitter: Twitter – @LRWAVE