Feel Like You Can't Move Forward? This Scientist Founded a Charity to Build Compassion After Unthinkable TragedyNone By Matt Alesevich
When neuroscientist Jeremy Richman’s 6-year-old daughter, Avielle, was murdered alongside 19 of her classmates at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it didn’t take long for him and his wife, Jen, to make a plan of action.
Their plan, however, didn’t involve revenge. It wasn’t fueled by hate or detachment. It focused instead on compassion and engagement. In the wake of unthinkable tragedy, Jeremy and Jen Richman founded what would become known as the Avielle Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to preventing violence through research and community education.
Inspired by their courage, Happify recently caught up with Jeremy to discuss brain health, compassion and the foundation that bears his late daughter’s name.
How long after Avielle’s death did the idea for a foundation surface?
In the blur of days that are arbitrarily marked after [Avielle] was killed, we were in a dark place, as many families were. [My wife] Jen said we need to do something—no one else can suffer this bad—it’s unfathomable. We’re both scientists, so we thought we should play to our strengths as scientists. Something was wrong with [the killer’s] brain. But what was it? That’s what scientists do: ask those why and how questions. We thought: let’s start a foundation that’s committed to understanding that.
What is the mission of the Avielle Foundation?
To prevent violence and build compassion through neuroscientific brain health research, community engagement and education.
You use “brain health” instead of “mental health.” Why is that?
Mental health is invisible. It comes with fear and stigma. By using brain health, we make the invisible visible. The brain is an organ, and just like other organs, you can study it in a scientific way. We need to move to a place where we look at the brain like the heart or kidneys.