When Pati Poblete’s 23-year-old son, Robby, was killed during an attempted robbery in 2014 by a gun that had been illegally obtained and resold on the street, she used her strongest weapon—her voice—to heal herself and others who suffer from gun violence or other loss.
“I wrote Robby a letter every day for a year because I had so many questions and the thought of sitting down to write a whole book was too overwhelming,” Poblete said. But after searching for a book that might help her during the overwhelming grief and finding nothing, the two-time Pulitzer prize nominee decided to write her own. “Everything I found was either a self-help book or very religious, and neither resonated with me,” Poblete explained. “I wrote the book I wished was accessible to me…that says ‘it’s okay to feel angry, spiteful…all of it is okay to feel.’”
In her memoir, A Better Place, Poblete shares her journey after Robby’s murder, including the path that led her to create a nonprofit program that turns guns into pieces of art, aptly called Art of Peace. Since its formation in February of 2017, they have succeeded in getting about 250 firearms out of circulation through their gun buyback program—with several them being assault weapons—and was named California Nonprofit of the Year.
The Robby Poblete Foundation proposes an annual gun buyback program to get unwanted guns out of circulation. Using materials from returned and dismantled guns, the foundation proposes the implementation of programs that offer hope and opportunity to the people in the participating communities. This includes art programs as well as vocational training.
People would try to comfort me and say, ‘Don’t cry. Robby is in a better place,’ and that didn’t work for me,” Poblete expressed. “I needed a purpose and I realized, why not create a better place while we are here for yourself and those around you? The foundation gave me a purpose. Robby’s murder is creating a ripple effect of people doing positive things. I’m helping people I never realized I was helping and taking action in a positive way.”
The foundation’s gun buyback and art program have been adopted by multiple cities in Solano and Alameda counties in Northern California and Poblete has her sights next on Atlanta and San Diego. This year, the foundation received a $150,000 grant from the California Wellness Foundation to support its core programs, and hundreds of people attended the opening of the Vallejo Art of Peace exhibit in April.
“People are getting desensitized to gun violence stories in the news, but when you have lost someone to gun violence it’s the opposite. It brings up everything again and the first thing I think about is that call the parents are going to get,” Poblete added. “It becomes disheartening, but I am encouraged about what the next generation has managed to achieve. This is the first time private and public entities are working to divest the NRA of its power. We as adults didn’t effect change, but the next generation, they have the power. They have the bull horn and the rest of us should follow.”
Thank you: Locale Magazine