Mary Hernandez says she’s a private person who never dreamed of starting an organization. Yet a year ago, she launched the Angellyh Yambo Foundation to honor her great-niece, the victim of a gun crime, and to prevent further gun deaths.
By the foundation’s first anniversary on Jan. 24, it had brought together 75 young people for a summit on youth violence and involved many dozens of other Bronx youngsters in workshops on gun violence, resilience, mental health, anti-bullying, college preparation, and financial literacy.
“Save another life, this is our goal,” said Hernandez, the foundation’s founder and CEO. “This can’t happen again.”
On April 8, 2022, 16-year-old Angellyh was walking to her Melrose home from her high school when she became an innocent victim of gun violence. She was an honor student at University Prep Charter High School with aspirations to become a doctor.
Days before she would have celebrated her 18th birthday, the foundation hosted its first Youth Gun Violence Prevention Summit at YMCA La Central on Jan. 19. About 75 teens attended to listen to speakers, such as Pamela Hight, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action, who lost one son to a 2013 shooting and a second son to being stabbed in 2016.
The young attendees also learned about organizations and resources available to them in the Bronx, from the Boy Scouts of America to the YMCA. The goal? To help keep them off the streets, safe, and connected to their community.
“I sensed they left feeling a little hopeful. We discussed the importance of having options and alternatives and making sure they know we are there for them,” said Alexandra Maruri in a text message about the summit.
“Our goal is to foster a meaningful connection between our youth and their communities, working to cultivate a more secure environment where they can live and thrive,” Maruri added.
Maruri is Hernandez’s half sister. As a licensed tour guide, Hernandez has relied on her knowledge of the Bronx and know-how in building her own business, Bronx Historical Tours, to help start and build the nonprofit.
The 16-year-old Angellyh also loved art, butterflies, make-up, beauty products, and had a close relationship with her family, and an especially close bond with her mother. But she was also bullied. By reading her journals and academic writings, looking at her art, and speaking with her teachers, the sisters crafted the foundation to be the essence of who Angellyh was.
“Yea, because we want it to be her voice,” explained Maruri. “It has to be her voice, and this is what’s needed in the Bronx,” she added.
One of the main focuses of the foundation is to create a support system for youth because Angellyh wrote about wanting to have a support system in one of her diaries. One of the workshops it offers is on how to deal with bullying.
“Angellyh had a lot of support because her mom really loved her. Her family loved her, but there were things that she needed, and that she lacked, and imagine if she felt like that, what did the other kids feel like,” said Maruri.
The nonprofit was launched on Jan. 24, 2023 precisely at 3:45, the time of day that Angellyh was born, right in the cemetery where her remains lie. “It was very emotional,” said Henriquez.
While Angellyh’s mom said the foundation brings her mixed emotions, she feels her late daughter’s presence at its events. In December, La Central YMCA hosted its inaugural “Brunch with Santa” event, where the Angellyh Yambo Foundation donated hundreds of presents, from books to basketballs. Each attendee got a green ticket, good for one free present of their choice.
Henriquez’s dream for the foundation is to one day have a community center with programming for kids that would boast Angellyh’s name on the front and her picture hanging in the entrance.
Angellyh’s dad, Manuel Yambo, who is Hernandez’s nephew, said he was deep in grief when his aunt asked for his thoughts about starting a foundation, but still gave her the go-ahead to do it.
“I was shocked that this thing took off the way that it did, you know, and how Angellyh is making an impact on everybody,” said Yambo. The 40-year-old was especially touched by the foundation’s involvement with “Brunch with Santa” since his daughter loved Christmas.
Last June, Rep. Ritchie Torres, whose congressional district includes Melrose, introduced the Angellyh Yambo Gun Free Zone Expansion Act of 2023. The bill would update the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990. Currently, guns are banned within school-zones or 1,000 feet from elementary and secondary schools. The legislation seeks to expand school zones to 5,000 feet.
The bill would also make it illegal “for any person to transfer or possess a ghost gun” by adding language in U.S. law to define ghost guns. Currently, there are regulations on ghost guns but no laws prevent the sale, possession, or purchase of them.
When the man found guilty of Angellyh’s death was sentenced to 15 years to life in prison last September, District Attorney Darcel Clark praised the nonprofit. “Since Angellyh’s death, her family members have channeled their grief into action,” Clark said in a news release.
Clark highlighted the foundation’s efforts to speak with elected officials, pass the anti-ghost gun legislation, and participate in multiple anti-violence events in the Bronx. “Through their work, Angellyh’s memory will live on forever,” she said.
The Angellyh Yambo Foundation plans to hold another youth gun violence prevention summit in June, which is Gun Violence Awareness month. To learn more about the foundation and its events visit its website or follow on Instagram.