Melissa Spear, Executive Director

Melissa Spear is Executive Director at Common Ground.

On December 28th Javier Martinez, a Senior at Common Ground High School and a well-loved member of our school community, was murdered while walking down a street not far from his home.  His death has rocked Common Ground’s world in a myriad of ways.  For the first time we have had to learn how to grieve together as a community.  I have watched Liz and her staff do amazing work as they travel through this uncharted territory, often using only their own gut as a guide.  The way they have reached out and embraced our students and their families, creating the time and space for everyone to come together to mourn and reflect, to honor and celebrate the life of Javi, is truly a testament to their commitment to the well-being of Common Ground and the community it is a part of.

As students and staff have worked together to get through this difficult time I have seen our students step in to support and inspire staff when staff have struggled with their grief, and I have watched staff be there for their students when they have been overwhelmed by the sense of loss.  And it is not just the loss of Javi that must be attended to, it is the loss of the sense of safety and promise and hope for the future that we work so hard to create for our students. Losing Javi to an unprovoked act of violence in his own community, in the community where many of our staff and students live, has pierced the Common Ground bubble with the reality that despite everything we do to create a safe, hopeful, empathetic community here at 358 Springside Avenue, we are part of a larger community whose challenges we must face as our own.

Learning to support each other as we grieve the loss of Javi here at Common Ground is the first step down what I hope will be a long path leading us to seek a better understanding of the causes and impacts of violence in the greater community we are a part of.  We should honor Javi’s death by ensuring it becomes a powerful catalyst fueling deeper thinking, and eventually action that will help address the root causes of tragedies such as this.   The work will without doubt be hard and sometimes painful.  It will require us to humanize Javi’s murderer, to look beyond simple explanations to the more complex realities that motivate such heinous acts.  How did Javi’s murderer grow up to so devalue life that he or she was able to pull the trigger knowing that the consequence was going to be the end of an innocent persons life? 

The ultimate responsibility for the murder lies with the murderer, but I can’t help wonder where the capacity – no, not just the capacity – the willingness to murder has come from.    If we can’t move beyond “inherent evil” as the root cause of this person’s action the violence will never end.  This person grew up within a community, a culture, a society that had a significant influence on this person’s view of the world.    We, as members of that community, that culture, that society have a responsibility to recognize our own contribution to a world where tragedies such as this seem common place, and we need to work together to overcome the dynamics that lead to a devaluing of life and a casual willingness to murder.  We must ask ourselves hard questions about who, what and how our institutions, our beliefs, our culture, our policies, our economic system, our media institutions, our own individual actions contribute to this phenomena.  I want to know how Javi’s murderer came to adopt such a warped value system.  Where did this system of values originate and why?  What opportunities were missed to catch this person before he or she fell from grace?  No institution, system or person should be immune from questioning – we all need to look in the mirror.  But perhaps even harder than being willing to recognize our own contribution to the problem is being willing to stand up and fight for change, to work together, regardless of where we live, how much money we have, what the color of our skin is, what church we go to, what language we speak, to address the problem that led to the end of this beloved young mans life, and to the lives of far too many beloved young men and women in New Haven and beyond.  RIP Javi – may your death help us create a better world.