Growing up surrounded by violence and neglect, my childhood was never easy. Of the drive-bys, gang fights, random beatings, and domestic violence that ravaged the neighborhood I grew up in, few were ever featured on the nightly news. When they were, newscasters made sure viewers knew how angry, painful, and mean the primarily African American, low-income neighborhood I lived in was. Friends didn't come to visit. Cops didn't stop when we were fighting. Drugs were all around. There were no public vigils for the suffering our families, friends, enemies, and neighbors knew.
So when I saw the horror of a parent unfold in front of me, I was surprised by my own response. Instead of my typical shrug and rather than the apathy of my young years, I was moved to mourn, not through prompting on t.v., but through my empathy while reading the story that emerged. My heart was ripped open and poured onto the floor, when in the past it would've buttoned up and become indifferent. The anesthetizing truth of growing up in an urban battle front in America is finally starting to wear off, and my view of this tragedy had changed from in the past.
The ways people relate to each other in the U.S. constantly change. From being strangers who stole lands from strangers, some of whom stole other strangers from their lands, to becoming strangers who live next door and with other strangers and have intimate relationships with strangers on video games and social media, we are strange people. We choose relationships based on what we can get out of them instead of ones we can put something into. We are strange people.
I am a strange person. Instead of retreating from this human catastrophe, I wrapped my arms tightly around my own daughter and held her closer. Yesterday we reveled in her childhood together for the whole day, and today I continue to enjoy her life together with her. The moms and dads in Connecticut who won't get to do that suffer because of our strangeness. We are strange because we pretend we don't know.
We pretend we don't know young people like the young man who shot up the classroom. We pretend we don't understand the dynamics that would lead a person to do such a horrific thing. Worst of all, we pretend like we don't need to do next.
I don't want to oversimplify the problem, but WE DO KNOW WHAT TO DO. Every single one of us, right now, can take steps to prevent another school shooting. Starting right now, each one of us can stop being a stranger. We can reach out to our neighbors, to the children within our homes and throughout our neighborhoods, and across our society. Each of us, right now, can engage a young person. If we do not do that, we're not doing enough, and worse yet, more tragedies are headed our way.
Surely, lawmakers need to limit access to the murderous weapons, schools need more practical security precautions, and young people need to be empowered to know what they can do to prevent horrors like this, because there are things they can practically do. But as always, change begins with each of us individually. Here are 5 things you can do to stop the next school shooting:
- Know a Young Person. They're all around you, whether or not you care. Well, start caring. It may be hard because you might need to learn new behaviors and they might challenges your assumptions. But you can do it: Just know a young person.
- Get Active in Their Lives. If you want to stop the next school shooting, get active in the lives of children and youth. If you're a parent, get to know your kids right now in the ways they'd have you know them and not just on your terms. If you're not a parent, volunteer to a neighbor, friends, a community agency, schools, or somewhere else.
- Learn New Ways of Being. There are reasons why young people disconnect from the adults in their lives. With conservative media portraying youth as always apathetic or always violent, and so-called liberal media infantalizing and incapacitating children and youth, its no wonder why young people withdraw. Learn new ways of being around young people through good books, training, and more.
- Challenge Adults With Bad Attitudes. If you are or want to be an ally to young people, you must must must learn to challenge adults who talk about, treat, or see young people poorly. We have to challenge discrimination against children and youth because it drives them to disconnect. Forced to be on their own in an indifferent world, we encourage young people in the worst ways. Stand up to adults bullying young people.
- Be Hopeful. There is a lot of discouraging news in the world. With more people living on the planet, more crime happening among children and youth, and more apparent pain than we've ever known, its hard not be hurt, and for some people, hateful. We must challenge hopeless in others, but most importantly within ourselves. We have to be true to what we know is reality: Young people are the brightest lights of the present and the future, and we shouldn't surround them with darkness just to let them shine brighter.
Every one of us can stop being strangers. Every one of us can start being friends. If being around young people is too hard for you, then reach out to an adult neighbor or a senior housing resident. Build community however you can. But for goodness sake, please do not pretend that we don't know what to do next.
Call or email me if you want to talk about any of this. We're not strangers anymore.