Hundreds of people gathered Sunday to celebrate the life of Tyler Lawrence, a 13-year-old boy who was shot and killed last week on Babson Street in Mattapan. It's the kind of tragedy that Troy Smith is familiar with.

"Violence in our community is not the norm, and it should never be accepted as part of our day-to-day living," said Troy Smith, director of the Perkins Community Center, a part of Boston Centers for Youth and Families, a six minute drive from where Tyler was killed.

Through his role, Smith knows many victims of violence. But in December, just weeks before Christmas and his 58th birthday, he became a victim himself.

"I had a flat tire, so I went right over to the tire shop across from where I work," Smith said. "While standing there waiting, I was engaging in conversation with a young lady. She said, 'I need your help getting back into school.' A black vehicle pulled up and they very abruptly turned into the driveway of the tire shop, and all four assailants jump out, firing at once."

Smith said his first instinct was to push the young woman out of the way, without realizing he'd been hit in the forehead and his inner right thigh. His 21-year-old daughter was nearby as he fell to the ground.

"I see my daughter coming towards me and I'm trying to signal to her, no, don't come, because in my head I still hear the gunshots," Smith said. "And she's on the phone screaming and hollering, and I'm saying, I'm not going to pass out today. I'm not going to die today."

I recently sat down with Smith at a restaurant near his center as he reflected on what it's like to be a survivor. If you look closely, you can still see a scar on his forehead from where the bullet grazed him.

"Trying to wrap your thought process around, from helping those that were victims of violence to now being a victim of violence — you're sort of trying to triage yourself and those immediately around you," Smith said.

"That incident is life-changing. I don't go about the same routine I had once before," Smith continued. "When I wake up in the morning, I thank God that I'm awake, that I have full faculties of all my limbs and a little bit of peace of mind. If I want to do something, I do it. I don't put it off. It was never about me first. It was about others first. And so now it's my time."

Smith's career has been focused on cultivation of a safe space for students and their families. That space is still there, even after he became a survivor of violence himself.

"It's because of the individuals I work with and the camaraderie," he said. "The family atmosphere that we have established is one that supports the positive and diminishes the negative. We teach you what is right in acceptable social behavior. We encourage you to live those acceptable social behaviors daily."

"The individuals that perpetuated this incident could do community service at my community center. I welcome it."
-Troy Smith, director of the Perkins Community Center

To stop the violence, he said, people need to focus on root causes.

"In many families, the parent or guardian is working multiple jobs to provide for their household, so they don't always have an opportunity to be the doorkeeper of who's coming in and out of their homes," Smith said. "But we, in this day and age, need to slow down a little bit to know who our children are interacting with, what's coming in and out of our homes. Then we'll be able to curtail some of this gun violence."

That engagement is vital in finding solutions, he said.

"It's not pointing fingers at anyone. It's just knowing that we need to be actively engaged," Smith said. "We become desensitized to the ills that plague our neighborhoods and our society. We've got to come together, the brain trust, and really sit and listen. To the parents. To our young people. Because I found many of our young people just want to be heard. And when we give them the opportunity to be heard, they're speaking their own solution, which in many cases nonviolent."

If he could speak with the people responsible for his attack, he said, he would tell them that he is not angry.

"I'm not angry. I'm not bitter. I'm disappointed," he said. "I forgive you, because I have no heaven or hell to put you in. All I can do is pray for you, if at all possible. The individuals that perpetuated this incident could do community service at my community center. I welcome it."