Story by Cathi Douglas ’80 / Image Courtesy Billie Weiss
Billie Weiss ’78 (B.A. biological science) was like a kid in a candy store in her first biology class at Cal State Fullerton. “I wanted to do everything,” Weiss recalls. “I was surprised to find myself so intrigued by the hard sciences.”
So intrigued was she, that she continued her studies at UCLA, earning a master’s degree in epidemiology. Today, Weiss is associate director of the Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center in the UCLA School of Public Health, where she has become an outspoken advocate for violence prevention.
“Violence, particularly gun violence, in Los Angeles County kills more young people under the age of 35 than anything else, including AIDS, cancer, heart disease or motor-vehicle accidents,” Weiss says. “Violence in Los Angeles County costs more public-health dollars than any other epidemic. It is the leading epidemic of our time, and it impacts every segment of a healthy community.”
For her work to prevent violence through public health research, The California Wellness Foundation recently honored Weiss with the California Peace Prize. She was recognized with Kismet Evans of San Bernardino and Orlando Ramos of San Jose. Each honoree received a $25,000 cash award.
Weiss was an intern with Los Angeles County in 1990 when she realized that youth in L.A. were not dying of infectious diseases. “In parts of South Central, one in 200 young men of color was dying every year due to homicide and guns,” she says.
That’s when she embarked on what has become her life’s mission – pioneering public health research that helps community-based organizations become more effective in preventing violence. She also went on to help establish the Violence Prevention Coalition of the Greater Los Angeles Area.
Weiss has served as a member of the Interagency Gang Task Force, Los Angeles County Family Violence Task Force, the Domestic Violence Council, Women Against Gun Violence, the National HELP Network, and many other organizations directed toward reducing community violence and abuse.
A portion of her award will go toward the county’s Violence Prevention Coalition, which is primarily funded by grants and donations.