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'It's a wake-up call': Project BodyBag works to end youth violence in Lexington

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Posted at 4:24 PM, Feb 14, 2022

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — A Lexington native is using a body bag to help youth in the city visualize the consequences of violence.

Project BodyBag will host a presentation at the Dunbar Community Center on February 25 at 5:00 p.m. It is open to the public.

Damien Riley created Project BodyBag in 2014 in Evansville, Indiana. After being released from incarceration, he knew he wanted to encourage young people to choose a different path.

"I wanted to do something different to try to get these kids' attention. So I went to a coroner in Evansville and asked him pretty much 'can I use a body bag?" said Riley.

Since then, he's moved back home to Lexington. A big reason is a rise in gun violence.

"We don't want that to continue to happen in the community. So being from Lexington and being from the east end, I wanted to come back and get back and do what I needed to do to help."

There have been 17 shootings in Lexington since January. Seven of the victims are under the age of 21.

The reality of that is something Riley is bringing young people across Lexington as close as possible to with ten seconds of complete darkness in the cold, thick plastic of a body bag.

"I wanted to give them a visual of if you keep getting in trouble, different things can happen to you," said Riley.

Black men like Riley and Corey Dunn have taken the issue of youth gun violence into their own hands-getting creative to promote and organize change in their city.

"When you start adding up the numbers, we've had over a hundred murders in the past three years," said Dunn. "A large percentage of them have been young people, and we have worked with all of them. If we didn't work with them, we knew their parents."

When the violence happens, it's not just another shooting for them; it's personal.

"Being a gunshot victim myself and seeing photographs of myself laid in the hospital, I realize how easily I could've been in this bag," said Dunn. "And then I think about how many of the children we work with within this community may end up in a bag just like this one this year. It's heartbreaking."

Riley hopes Project BodyBag will be the reality check that hits someone.

"It's a wake-up call," said Riley.

It's one more tool to help break the cycle of violence in Lexington.