In November of 2021, University of Maryland, College Park President Darryll J. Pines and University of Maryland, Baltimore President Bruce E. Jarrell named eight professors as the inaugural MPower Professors. This award from the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower) recognizes, incentivizes, and fosters faculty collaborations between the College Park and Baltimore campuses.
Selected for his commitment to interdisciplinary and interprofessional collaboration, University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) Joel and Kim Feller Professor of African American Studies and Medical Anthropology Joseph B. Richardson, Ph.D., M.A., holds a secondary appointment as Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) School of Medicine. His research focuses on gun violence, violence, and trauma among African American boys and young men, incarceration as a social determinant of health, and parenting for low-income African American male youth.
Dr. Richardson is the co-founder and former co-director of the Capital Region Violence Intervention Program (CAP-VIP), a hospital-based violence intervention program at the University of Maryland Prince George’s Hospital Center, and executive director of the Transformative Research and Applied Violence Intervention Lab (TRAVAIL), an interdisciplinary gun violence research lab housed in UMCP’s College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. In addition to his roles at the University of Maryland, Dr. Richardson is an advisory board member for the Maryland Violence Intervention Program Advisory Council, Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth, and Victim Services (GOCPYVS) and serves as co-chair of the D.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner’s Violence Fatality Review Committee. In this capacity, he provides research, policy, and program recommendations on violence reduction strategies. Dr. Richardson serves as an instructor for the D.C. Peace Academy, where he trains violence interrupters for the Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (ONSE), Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services (DYRS), and the D.C. Office of the Attorney General (OAG). He is also the executive producer of the digital storytelling project Life After the Gunshot, which explores the intersection and impact of the healthcare and criminal justice systems on young Black male survivors of nonfatal gun violence.
Can you briefly describe the type of research you do?
My research focuses on the causes, collateral consequences, and interventions for gun violence and trauma among Black boys and young Black men. I utilize the two busiest trauma centers at the University of Maryland as my research labs. My research is interdisciplinary, integrating the behavioral sciences, public health, medicine, social work, and the digital humanities.
What drives you to do this research?
Gun violence has consistently been the leading cause of death among young Black men for three decades, yet has not been prioritized as a public health crisis among this population due to structural violence and racism. I am driven to translate my research into innovative interventions that will change this narrative and save lives.
What did it mean to you personally to be named an MPower Professor?
It means that the university has recognized important transformative research which uplifts the significance of collaborative research between the two campuses.
I have been working with the School of Medicine on gun violence research for well over a decade. My work started in 2010 with my mentor Dr. Carnell Cooper, a former trauma surgeon and professor at the School of Medicine who pioneered one of the first hospital-based violence intervention programs in the nation at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center. My other colleague was Dr. Tanya Sharpe, an associate professor at the UMB School of Social Work who is an expert in homicide survivorship. Dr. Sharpe is now at the University of Toronto. The three of us were working collaboratively in the gun violence research space for years with minimal funding or attention. On the College Park campus there were no gun violence researchers, so I found synergy with like-minded scholars on the Baltimore campus. This was before Zoom, so I had to frequently travel to Baltimore without any funding for my transportation. To be named an MPower Professor is the recognition of my work, but equally a tribute to my colleagues Drs. Cooper and Sharpe who were bridging the campuses through collaborative research well before MPower was an idea.
My former Dean Greg Ball, now Vice President for Research, was also very supportive of my gun violence research at UMB; he championed my work throughout my career and was very instrumental in helping me to forge a strategic partnership with the School of Medicine before MPower. I also worked closely with Dr. Daniel Mullins, Chair of Pharmaceutical Health Services and director of the PATIENTS Program at the UMB School of Pharmacy. I was the recipient of a PATIENTS grant in 2016-2017, which funded my patient-centered outcomes research on young Black male survivors of violent firearm injury. For several years, I was a mentor for the UM Scholars Program, mentoring graduate students from the UMB Carey School of Law and the School of Social Work. These students served as my graduate research assistants. This award encapsulates my work with all the scholars I have worked with at UMB.
For me personally, it shows the value of African American Studies (AFAM) as a discipline because when people think of AFAM, many typically would not think that this kind of innovative research and partnerships would come out of an AFAM department, but it uplifts the scholarship and importance of African American Studies at the university level.
How do you collaborate with researchers outside of your discipline?
I am collaborating with researchers at the UMB School of Social Work, professors Kyla Liggett-Creel and Corey Shdaimah. We are leading the qualitative research for an MPower Grant we were recently awarded with principal investigator (PI) Gary LaFree from the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice at UMCP. Our MPower grant explores the victim/offender overlap among survivors and perpetrators of gun violence in Baltimore. I lead the violence research team at the UM Shock Trauma Center, which is primarily composed of trauma surgeons and emergency department physicians. My colleagues from the UMCP School of Public Health, Drs. Craig Fryer and Kevin Roy, and I are collaborating on a study funded by the UMD Brain and Behavior Institute which examines trauma, mental health, and toxic environments among Black men. I am also collaborating with Lydia Watts, director of the Rebuild, Overcome, and Rise (ROAR) Center, a victims of crime clinic at the UMB Carey School of Law. Lydia and I are collaborating on two studies: (1) the impact of a virtual healing platform for Black male survivors of gun violence, and (2) the impact of gun violence on Black women survivors of violent firearm injury in Baltimore. These are examples of my collaborations with researchers in social work, behavioral and social sciences, medicine, public health, and the law.
Why is this collaboration important to you?
It is important to get scholars out of their silos. Far too often we get stuck in our silos and only speak to scholars in our discipline. That conversation can get stale and lead to stagnation. Being a scientist is about moving out of our comfort zones. Our research is much more innovative when we bring scholars from different disciplines to the table and the world is a better place for it.
Please name the researchers you have worked with on MPower collaborations:
Dr. Kyla Liggett-Creel (UMB School of Social Work)
Dr. Corey Shdaimah (UMB School of Social Work)
Dr. Gary LaFree (UMCP College of Behavioral and Social Sciences)
Dr. Paul Thurman (UMB School of Nursing)
I also want to uplift researchers that I have worked with on MPower collaborations that were unfunded but nevertheless important:
Lydia Watts (UMB Carey School of Law)
Dr. Kyle Fisher (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Melike Harfouche (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. C. Daniel Mullins (UMB School of Pharmacy)
Dr. Zachary Dezman (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Bethany Strong (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Jacques Mather (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Shailvi Gupta (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Carnell Cooper (UMB School of Medicine)
Dr. Tanya Sharpe (UMB School of Social Work)
Lauren Reichard (UMB School of Nursing)
Sandy Waak (UMB School of Nursing)
Jody Shirley (UMB School of Nursing)
Erin Walton (UMB R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center)
David Ross (UMB R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center)
Tara Carlson (UMB R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center)
How do the funds awarded from MPower support your research and help facilitate collaborations with other researchers?
I have used the funds to support my research assistants, one of whom is community-based which is really important to me, to fund collaborations with community-based researchers. The funds also support my summer salary for my gun violence research projects, and I will be using the funds to support my digital storytelling projects on gun violence.
What are the next steps for your research?
My next steps are to continue to produce innovative research which translates into interventions. I recently completed a study which used a virtual peer healing platform for Black men who survived firearm-related violent injury. I believe this approach will have a significant impact on the field. I am launching a project which centers on the experiences of Black women who survived violent firearm injury in Baltimore. To my knowledge, it is the first ethnographic study on Black women survivors of community firearm violence. Hopefully, the data from this project will translate into much needed mental health resources for Black women who survived community gun violence. Currently, there are limited resources for this population despite the growing numbers of Black women who survive gun violence.
You can access Dr. Richardson’s award-winning documentary, Life After the Gunshot, which examines gun violence and trauma among young Black men in Washington, D.C., at www.lifeafterthegunshot.com.