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"MassLive News" featured adjunct Dyson Professor Kency Gilet in "Young, black and Republican: Why this NRA member thinks education is key in the conversation about guns in America"


"MassLive News" featured adjunct Dyson Professor Kency Gilet in "Young, black and Republican: Why this NRA member thinks education is key in the conversation about guns in America"

MassLive teamed up with Cambridge-based nonprofit Essential Partners to host Guns: An American Conversation, bringing together 15 strangers to share differing viewpoints on gun-related issues as part of an effort to connect and learn.

Kency Gilet hasn't always voted Republican.

When Barack Obama ran for president in 2008, Gilet was still in college and cast his vote, excited to see the first African-American in office.

"I got really excited about the hope and change and the first black president," Gilet, 30, said. "It was after President Obama was elected I decided to actually start paying attention to politics, and started having my own opinions."

He began to notice that Obama's policies and stances didn't really align with the conservative, religious values he was raised on. He started to see that his views were different than many of his friends.

By Obama's re-election, Gilet said he had been "outed" as a Republican.

"I think the initial shock people get is the fact that I'm a Republican," said Gilet, of Springfield. "It's because I'm black and it's because I'm a mental health professional. I'm an adjunct professor, I was the PTO president for a couple years at my kids' school. In their minds, I'm in a very liberal field. In all these fields, I'm supposed to be nice and like people. How can I be nice and like people and also be a Republican? That's the mental block I think people have."

So as a young, black NRA member who works in the mental health field, Gilet brought a unique perspective to Guns: An American Conversation, an event hosted by MassLive and Cambridge-based Essential Partners that brought 15 strangers together to learn effective skills in communication and discuss guns over 24 hours on May 5.

While Gilet found the Guns: An American Conversation discussion to be productive, he said he didn't walk away feeling like he learned something new or had his eyes opened widely by the other side.  

The group got to know each other on Saturday morning before the real discussion began. A series of activities helped the 15 strangers connect and learn about each other. The group then participated in a two-hour dialogue session focused exclusively on the gun debate in America, with both pro and anti-gun viewpoints supported and expressed.

Last year, Gilet ran for Springfield City Council. It was also the year that he purchased a gun for the first time. 

"I often feel like I'm demonized, and gun owners are demonized, because even though they are among the most law-abiding citizens because of all the background checks and all the things that you have to go through to even get a firearm, I still feel demonized and hear a lot of anti-rhetoric," he said.

But that rhetoric did not rear its head during Guns: An American Conversation.

"I still half expected there to be more high emotions, animosity...It was actually really good. Everyone was respectful. Everyone appeared open to hearing people's viewpoints," said Gilet, a mental health clinician at the River Valley Counseling Center in Holyoke who assists students and staff at the Peck Middle School, as well as being an adjunct professor at Pace University.

But Gilet said he didn't feel like the arguments he heard from those who were more on the side of gun control opened his eyes to something new.

"I always want to learn more. I don't ever want to walk on this Earth ignorant. I want to hear different opinions but I haven't heard anything that I haven't already heard and a lot of the arguments that I heard this weekend were based out of ignorance," Gilet said, noting that he felt people came out of the discussion with the goal of researching more facts associated with the use of firearms.

One statistic he pointed to is the fact that nearly two-thirds of gun deaths in the country are suicides, a fact that is often overlooked in the discussion about guns in America.

Read the full article.