Stephanie Stefano and Cheyenne Holyfield have a lot in common. They met in kindergarten and went through school together.
“I remember in kindergarten, I was fascinated by her curly hair,” said Stefano.
When it was time to pick a college, they chose to go to Carlow University so they could spend their college careers together.
“It just seemed like Carlow was more than a university; it was a home and community,” said Holyfield.
Unfortunately, there’s something else they have in common. They each lost a family member to gun violence.
“My Uncle John was shot five times in his home,” said Stefano of the 2015 incident. “There was nothing stolen. It was not about drugs, not gang related.”
“My brother, Jamal, was gunned down two blocks from a police station,” said Holyfield. “I was the last person to see him alive.” She was 13 when it happened in 2009.
As best friends, they have cried on each other’s shoulder. They have faced the first Christmas, the first birthday, the first of everything without their loved ones.
“I didn’t think something like this could happen,” said Holyfield. “When you are young, you don’t know that [gun violence] is out there. And when it does happen, it completely shifts how you think about life.”
Because of this shared perspective, they did something else together, too. They agreed without hesitation to share a bit of their stories in television commercials announcing the launch of Carlow University’s Social Justice Institutes and its commitment to gun violence prevention.
“I’m hoping that John’s story will inspire people to stop with the violence, stop with the guns,” said Stefano. “Children need their fathers and their mothers, and their uncles and their children.”
Both women have a wisdom born from this pain and are intent on using their tragedies to help others. Graduating this May, Stefano has accepted a position within UPMC Mercy's Child Development Center and Holyfield was accepted to Duquesne University for graduate school and hopes one day to be a counselor.
“The most important thing to tell someone is they’re not alone,” said Holyfield.
And it’s tough to deal with the anger.
“I’m not the only person burdened with this,” she said. “I can’t be. I think the person who pulled the trigger has to be burdened with it, as well.”
By Drew Wilson