Between March 14th and March 17th, Jennifer, Mike, and I were able to represent the Avielle Foundation in San Francisco to meet with innovative thinkers, brain researchers, and philanthropists. We headed to the West Coast to focus on innovative brain health research, and how it can be used to prevent violence. Our efforts were in partnership with the announcement of the Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) Innovation Initiative — the goal of which is to create technology that will prevent the violence witnessed by the world in Newtown, CT on December 14th. Three specific areas are targeted for the technology initiative: Brain health, school safety, and gun safety. It was an inspiring whirlwind tour and a great experience. The SHP afforded us the opportunity to speak on behalf of the Avielle Foundation, at a press conference, addressing the technology community with this statement:
“My name is Jennifer Hensel and this is Jeremy Richman. Three months ago, on December 14th, we lost our only child, a daughter of 6 years, Avielle Rose Richman, in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. On that day, a mentally unstable gunman changed our lives and the lives of more than 25 other families in one of the worst ways imaginable. We are devastated. In the wake of our grief, and desperate to understand why someone would kill innocent children, why someone would kill my child, we started the Avielle Foundation.
Jeremy and I are going to play to our strengths and answer the “Why?” We are scientists, and we see the world through an empirical lens. We’ve established the Avielle Foundation to address the causes of violence through a focus on brain health. I want to start using this term, brain health, because mental health is intangible – it comes with some degree of trepidation and stigma. But we know there are real, physical manifestations within the brain that can be imaged, measured, quantified, and understood – we can work with that, and then, we can fix it.
We know that people who commit these crimes are sick. It’s not a coincidence that so many of these tragedies are perpetrated by young men, isolated from communities, isolated from support networks. They are alienated, disenfranchised, and obsessed. There is something that has gone wrong in these brains. But we don’t know what it is yet. This is because we haven’t paid enough attention, but more so because the brain is complex and difficult to study. We don’t know enough. And we can’t identify and intervene, before people become violent, unless we know what to look for and how to treat it.
Here, innovation is critical, our questions are not going to be answered in a traditional way, or they would have been solved already. We have to explore the underpinnings of violence with a fresh view, with no assumptions. We need to create technology that allows us to visualize and measure brain functions in an affordable, accurate, and accessible manner. In our scientific careers, we have seen over and over again seemingly impossible puzzles solved by young fresh thinkers that don’t know the rules, or live in the box of assumptions, and were therefore free to imagine.
And that is why we are so thankful for Jim and Ron, and owe them a great debt of gratitude. Because this is what they are asking for – they are asking people to imagine. First, imagine what it is like to lose a loved one at the hands of a deranged gunman – and let that motivate you to do something; imagine, that we can identify people at-risk of violent behaviors, early, and can intervene; imagine communities that support one another, embrace diversity, and recognize the value of brain health – and then, let’s get to work.
Let’s create technology that allows us to visualize and measure brain functions in an affordable, accurate, and accessible manner so we can change the landscape of brain health.”
Here are links to some of the articles and interviews that highlight the Avielle Foundation following the Sandy Hook Promise Technology Innovation Initiative event: