I was scrolling through my Twitter feed Friday night to see that just four hours earlier there was “breaking news” of a shooting at a yoga studio in Tallahassee, Florida. This is a town I know. I moved to Chicago from St. Petersburg, Florida, just over a year ago. Even though Tallahassee was a seven-hour drive away from St. Petersburg, we made the drive several times during the years I lived in Florida because the city played host to the state high school cross country championship races that my school participated in. Tallahassee is also the home of Florida State University, a university that a number of our students matriculated to. Yoga—Shooting. Those words seem to be polar opposites to me. Don’t they to you? My head doesn’t seem to register the news—three dead (including the gunman), and even more injured.
The local 10 o’clock news is playing on the television in the background in the other room. I listen as the program begins, expecting that this might be a lead news story. I never even hear the Tallahassee shooting covered. I turn the channel to CNN—nope, nothing there either. Huh? Wait. Is this not headline news anymore? In the local Chicago news, we have news of shootings almost daily. How is this okay? To add to this, just over a week ago there was the shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue—a SYNAGOGUE! And this shooting took place on the heels of pipe bombs being sent to public figures around the country. What?
One of our Roycemore administrators asked in a team meeting last week whether we should be publicly addressing what’s happening in our country. Her question came after her discussion with a faculty member who asked if we should be offering words of support to our students and families concerning what’s happening in our country. YES! I think! And then, No! I don’t know… I’m angry. I am sad. I am disgusted. Maybe you are, too? When acts of violence start to become commonplace, it seems to me that the main concern to address goes beyond the specific incident. Let’s focus on the fact that violence has become commonplace. Otherwise, our words become a drip, drip, drip of words that, at some point, will have no meaning at all. What should we do when everything that happens, everything that is said, gets twisted into a political issue?
I feel that our leaders let our children and country down after Sandy Hook: nothing happened. We had a chance in the shock of that mass shooting to change course. Do you remember? Here’s the reminder: nearly six years ago, on December 14, 2012, a 20-year-old gunman killed TWENTY children between six- and seven-years-old along with six adults at a school in Newtown, Connecticut. To let the weight of this action sink in, come visit our first grade classroom at Roycemore, brimming with thirteen beautiful, magical, joyful, engaging, and intellectually curious six- and seven-year-olds. Today, those very children at Sandy Hook Elementary would be in 7th grade. Sobering. What have we done since then as a nation to change course to protect our children? Not much—new lockdown procedures, more security guards, locking our buildings. These changes don’t seem to matter. Just over five years after Sandy Hook, a gunman murdered seventeen students and faculty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Sadly, there have been many-—MANY—mass shootings in-between these two assaults. Shootings have become so frequent that it’s easy to lose track. So, how can we keep from going numb?
I know that if I allow myself to think, to truly feel my raw feelings related to these realities, tears aren’t far away. Perhaps we are all experiencing a bit of PTSD from the society we have created. What do we do? I believe in fostering an environment at Roycemore where students feel safe to explore their feelings, to ask questions, and to engage in dialogue about the world they live in—of course, in age-appropriate ways and contexts recognizing we are a school that has children ranging in ages from three to 18, and all within one building. Moreover, I urge each person (whether a student, faculty, parent, alumni, or community member) to individually do what they feel compelled to do to support a world of love, respect, and empathy—whether that includes getting involved politically or making a difference another way.
This is my personal commitment to fight against the potential for feeling numb: to be proactive, to focus on the positive, to remain civil, and to maintain respect for those who have various political leanings:
- I will do all I can to fiercely protect the beauty, the innocence, and the magic of childhood. I want the children at Roycemore to feel safe, supported, and loved more than they could be loved anywhere else outside of their family. I want our school to be that second home, the extended family for our students. When they are safe, they can learn. When they can learn, they can reach their true potential. When they can reach their true potential, they can leverage their critical thinking, problem solving, creative, and team building skills to solve the challenging problems that my generation has NOT been able to solve. We must love them to their greatness—this is our calling! And this is the environment that our Roycemore teachers espouse every day.
- I will continue to foster the safe, supportive environment of Roycemore by encouraging our faculty to develop meaningful relationships with students to help them find their voice. Their voice might be one that gathers fellow students together for a national school walkout against gun violence, as Sophomore Cara M. did last year, or it might address the critical issues of sexual harassment and assault, as Alex C. did earlier this year. Their voice could even be one of inspired artistic expression, such as Hahrim C’s Korean drumming (click to view mini documentary video) or Daria C’s violin performance (click to view Young Steinway Concert Series video).
When our students embrace who they are and what they are passionate about, they remind us all to embrace our own purpose. When we are full of purpose, I promise you, it is impossible to feel numb.