As it became clear that 2015 might match the spike in homicides that occurred last year in the city of Pittsburgh, Tiffani "Monique" Walker enlisted social media to raise awareness for local deadly violence. The internet talk show host and creator of Embrace Life Media established a Facebook page entitled "Stop the Killing, Embrace Life" to honor lives lost to violence in the city of Pittsburgh.
A native of Pittsburgh's Hill District, Walker established Embrace Life Media in 2009. Over the last six years, Walker has recorded over 200 online talk show segments stressing the importance of entrepreneurship and featuring guests who have successfully become entrepreneurs. The murder of her 28-year-old sister Tiona Monique Jackson in February 2013, however, altered the direction of Walker's organization.
"That changed everything for my vision and how I see things in our city," says Walker. What began as an effort to "empower people to become their own entrepreneur," she says, became a movement to raise awareness for victims of violence and to use entrepreneurship to prevent violence in Pittsburgh's low-income communities of color.
So far, through "Stop the Killing, Embrace Life," Walker has received many messages from one specific group — mothers, especially those who have lost sons and daughters to violence. In most instances, lack of closure intensifies the grief of these women.
"A lot of these mothers are in pain because these cases are open and nothing is happening," Walker says.
The absence of closure resulting from the lack of attention given to these cases is reflective of an issue that has recently gained attention. Half of Pittsburgh's homicides remain unsolved, and community leaders consider race to be a factor in the rate of unsolved homicides.
Walker seeks to ease the pain of these grieving mothers by honoring them and bringing them together. On Aug. 16, she is hosting a "Mother's Love Brunch" for mothers who have lost loved ones to violence in the community.
"They're never really honored," says Walker. "I notice that the mothers are dealing with their pain separately. I want them to be able to come together and gain some sort of closure."
She plans to expand programming through Embrace Life Media to reach out to youth in the Pittsburgh community. For example, this fall, Walker plans to host a seminar to teach social media branding and to showcase the talents of young local entrepreneurs.
"The solution would be to teach our children entrepreneurship and to shine positive light on them so that they don't feel hopeless," Walker says.
She notes that it is challenging to reach out to teens and young adults, but she feels that the key to successfully doing so lies in her ability to relate.
"I'm one of them. I look like them. I'm young like them. I have a story like them," Walker says.