A history of tragic events led Michael MacDonald to become an activist in his South Boston community to reduce and prevent violence. He has become a major figure in the Citizens for Safety, a citywide coalition working to reduce violence in Boston, and initiated the Gun Buy Back Program and "Hands Without Guns". He also works with at-risk youth and founded Southie Survivors and the annual South Boston vigil for families who have lost relatives due to violence. Michael remains dedicated to fighting for the eradication of violence and guns from the community.
As a child, Michael lived in a public housing project in a neighborhood that was plagued by poverty, alcohol abuse and drug related crimes and illness. He lost four of his siblings to violence and lived with the threat of his youngest brother being sentenced to life in prison for a crime he did not commit. Guns and their aftermath caused much of the sadness in his life. Thus, Michael began working with Citizens for Safety to counteract his feelings of grief, rage and helplessness for the tragedies he had suffered.
The Gun Buy Back Program, which Michael began in 1992, focused on getting lethal weapons out of the hands of youth. In four years, almost 3,000 guns were collected and destroyed. The program resulted in a large decline in youth violence in Boston. Several years later, Michael spearheaded the "Hands Without Guns" campaign, which used various media to highlight positive activities of young people. The program focuses on youth that have turned bad situations into positive work to bring peace to the streets. In 1995, Michael organized the South Boston Vigil to preserve the memories of young gun violence victims.
Michael still finds time to lecture to community organizations, high school and university students about the distinction between a "victim" and a "survivor." According to Michael, this distinction is the key to preventing the self-pity and passivity that can accompany victimization. He prefers to live by the adage that "people who see themselves as survivors can move mountains" and provides a means by which survivors can help stop crime in their community.