Kennedy Chavez-Silver’s life was forever changed in 2015 when her older brother was killed in a driveby shooting by a bullet intended for someone else.

Jaydon Chavez-Silver, a 17-year-old with hopes of joining the United States Air Force, was standing in the kitchen at a house party when someone fired a gun through a nearby window. He was the only one hit. 

“Tragedy struck our family in 2015, so after that, I think we were all a little lost and didn’t know where to go at that point,” Kennedy Chavez-Silver said. "At that time, school and everything else around me was super hard as I was trying to grieve and go through the motions.”

This Spring, donning her cap, gown and a necklace engraved with her brother’s fingerprint, Kennedy will graduate from The University of New Mexico with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a minor in Criminology. 

After her brother died, Kennedy navigated being a teenager forging her own identity while processing her grief and working to ensure her brother’s life was not forgotten. The process took a toll and she struggled to balance the pain she experienced with school and relationships with friends until her mother stepped in and pushed her to move forward.

“My biggest role model is probably my mom,” she said. “At a time when I was so lost, she pulled me back out of that and was like, ‘Your brother would be wanting you to do better. You can cry and be sad, but don’t let his name go in vain.’”

Shortly after Jaydon’s death, then-Albuquerque Police Chief, Gordon Eden, connected the Chavez-Silvers with the family of Lilly Garcia, a four-year-old girl killed in a road rage incident in Albuquerque. The two families, connected by their losses to gun violence, founded ROBBED, a support and advocacy organization for families and victims of violent crimes. It was through ROBBED that Kennedy found an outlet to support others experiencing unimaginable loss –– victim advocacy.

Kennedy Chavez-Silver with her mother, Nicole Chavez.

“It means the world to me, especially at this point in my life where I’m able to help others in their grieving stages and help others in the stages I was in in the past,” she said. “It means a lot because you want someone who can understand what you’re going through at that time.”

ROBBED offers a place for the families of victims of violent crime to open up about their feelings, access support through their grief, and gain understanding of the judicial process, Kennedy said. The organization also advocates for laws at the state legislature and  supported the passage of Jaydon’s Law, which allows New Mexico judges to view the juvenile records of adult defendants under age thirty when making decisions about their cases.

Even after Kennedy found meaning through the organization her mother co-founded, she wasn’t sure what her future career might be, but she knew she wanted to help people. Communication seemed like the right fit for learning how to best reach people through a variety of methods, while also giving her the flexibility to explore careers in different fields. She paired the major with a Criminology minor to help her better understand the minds of criminals and the legal landscape and to gain additional skills if she decided to go into law enforcement.

Two years ago, she started an internship with the Albuquerque Police Department’s Cold Case Unit. There she reminds detectives to call victims’ families with updates on cases. She also goes over details and assigned research projects related to ongoing investigations, while maintaining strict confidentiality of sensitive information. The unit can often inspire refreshed hope for families that cases may be solved, Kennedy said. The work is personal for her, not only because of her own loss, but because she interns for the detective who worked on her brother’s case. 

Kennedy Chavez-Silver and her brother Jaydon Chavez-Silver as children.

“It’s been amazing seeing that side of things,” she said. “Not only did she care about my case, but so many others … I’m blessed that I’m able to see that aspect of it.”

Kennedy is eager to begin the next chapter of her life, but the moment she walks across the stage will be bittersweet for her and her family.

“[My family is] actually very emotional right now. I’m emotional as well, because life events keep going forward and Jaydon’s not here, but they are super excited and super proud of me and proud to see where I’m going to go,” she said.

As she explores the direction her career may take her, Kennedy hopes to continue advocating for victims, something she described as deeply necessary work, and helping people. She knows one thing for sure — her brother would be proud of her, too.