Trailhead Institute has announced a new effort to prevent firearm-related harm by hiring Jonathan McMillan to pilot a Firearm-Related Harm and Violence Prevention Program Office as its first Director. Jonathan, a nationally respected expert with lived experience, has a history of work with the City and County of Denver, the State of Colorado and several community-based organizations. 

The launch of the FHVP Program Office is made possible thanks to a pooled fund at Rose Community Foundation. The goal of this work is to build a sustained and responsive multi-sector movement to prevent firearm-related death and injury in Colorado through a public health approach. Too often, efforts to address firearm-related harm are hindered not only by partisan ideologies and differences in political will but also by an inability to be innovative or nimble within the constraints of governing bodies and by the absence of collaboration between systems and communities. 

In Colorado, firearm-related deaths are a major public health crisis. Following drug poisoning and falls, firearms are the third most common cause of death due to injury, more common than all motor-vehicle-related deaths. Firearms are also the leading cause of death associated with suicide, community violence, domestic violence, and targeted and mass shootings. In 2021, 70% of all firearm-related deaths in Colorado were suicide deaths, which highlights the need to apply a nuanced understanding of how communities across Colorado experience different forms of firearm-related harm to determine effective solutions for prevention, intervention, response, and recovery.

The FHVP Program Office is being incubated in response to calls for action from the report generated by the 2023 Public Health Roundtable on Firearm-Related Violence Prevention. The 2023 event brought together nearly 100 community leaders, researchers, and public health professionals who will continue to inform a community-based approach to firearm-related harm prevention in Colorado. 

In the pilot year, the FHVP Program Office will focus on learning from communities about what’s working and what’s needed to address the types of firearm-related harm they experience. The FHVP Program Office will meet with young people, parents, educators, faith leaders, firearm owners, researchers, local political leaders and many others across the state who want to be part of the solution to ensure their unique perspectives are included in this public health approach to firearm-related harm prevention. These outreach efforts will inform the development of a strategic plan to build action from the 2023 Roundtable report and support the creation of a second statewide convening later this year.

As Director of the program office, McMillian brings his over 30 years of professional and lived experience to the job. In his youth, he was involved with gangs and was incarcerated. He has built upon those experiences to become a public health-oriented harm and violence prevention expert who is called upon to share his insights around the country. He has experience as a community liaison, program coordinator, mentor to youth facing challenges, author and podcast host. He has worked with governments, school administrations, nonprofits and community coalitions.

McMillan became the first director of Colorado’s Office of Gun Violence Prevention in 2022 where he led a new effort to coordinate research, resources, and community resilience to reduce firearm-related harm. Before that, he helped build and then lead the Office of Youth Violence Prevention for the City and County of Denver.

As he says, “I am a simple man who has lived a complicated life. The lessons I’ve learned from the experiences I’ve been through and the challenges I’ve conquered have helped prepare me for this crucial role at Trailhead Institute. The harm caused by firearms is personal to me. I’ve known way too many people who died, families torn apart, and communities devastated by preventable firearm-related suicides, homicides, and injuries. Trailhead is ready to lead the way with a public health perspective on firearm-related violence and harm by being outside of the political space and above the partisan fray. We can bring a science- and fact-based lens combined with community voices to the discussion.”

Lisa Olcese, Interim Executive Director of Trailhead Institute, adds that the organization is in a unique position to help advance efforts in preventing harm from firearms through Trailhead’s long history of bringing together individuals and communities alongside governmental entities, academia, the public and private sector, and philanthropy to address public health needs. 

Collaboration and innovation have been at the forefront of Trailhead Institute’s mission for over 30 years,” said Olcese. “The Firearm-Related Harm and Violence Prevention Program Office is an important step towards building an effective public health approach to this tough issue, and Jonathan has a proven ability to bring partners and communities together across multiple divides through his deep expertise and exceptional leadership. Trailhead is looking forward to working with others who are taking action on this issue and with those who want to be part of the solution.” 

Learn More About the Program Office