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“Pain is pain”—Experiencing gun violence in Parkland, FL, South Side Chicago, Marshall County, KY


Mary Rojas and Jan Fenty (wearing sunglasses) on the bus with me and other neighbors on the way to the Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Washington, DC

For Saturday’s March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, Jan Fenty repurposed the signs she uses for the weekly Monday morning anti-gun demonstrations in front of the White House, giving me an extra sign as we rode the bus to the March site. As I reflected on the day—an event full of emotion, inspiration, and hope—I questioned whether there will be a lasting impact from rallies around the country. Then I thought of Jan who stood up with several hundred thousand on March 24 and on the Mondays before and after with only a dozen or so others, carrying the same sign….working for change day by day, year by year. My answer is “yes,” the collective action of people in small and large ways does make a difference.

In her essay “ACEs Science can prevent school shootings, but first people have to learn about ACEs science,” Jane Stevens says that the new movement led by the Parkland students and other young people will make a difference in the long run, especially if “they—and we—widen this to include the dozens of kids shot on the streets of Chicago or Camden or in other communities every week.”

The movement has embraced this perspective from the beginning, including the toll of violence, in particular, on black women. The youngest speaker, Naomi Wadler, did so but not without worrying first that she would be off topic. In a Washington Post story on the 11-year old Wadler, her thinking was described this way: “But then she found out other students from all over would speak from their experiences, and she felt comfortable telling her story as a black girl disappointed by how stories about how violence involving people who look like her don’t incite the same outrage and sympathy. Or garner the same media attention.”

The solidarity between the young people of Parkland and the South Side of Chicago is portrayed in a New York Times Guns in America video ‘We Are the Change’: Teenagers From Chicago’s South Side Stand With Parkland Survivors." During a visit by Parkland students to Chicago, fifteen-year-old Rie’ Onna Holmon of Chicago described their common experience this way: “Pain is pain. It doesn’t matter what ethnicity you are, where you come from, where you live, how much money you make. What happened in Parkland was injustice, and injustice there is injustice here.”

Stevens also says in her essay that the gun regulation issue is just a tiny part of the solution. “It’s a systems change issue,” according to Stevens. All of our systems have to change their approach to changing behavior based on the science of adverse childhood experience—ACEs, says Stevens. She adds, “The great news is that many organizations and communities already have, and are achieving results that many people thought were not possible.”

Of particular relevance in the context of school violence is the progress being made to create trauma-informed schools. The action steps for the Parkland movement specifically include support for gun regulation relating to assault weapons and background checks and explicit opposition to arming teachers and school personnel. There have been references to getting at the root causes of violence but the policy agenda does not include embedding trauma-informed principles in communities and schools.

There is, however, the potential for policy changes in that direction in response to the Parkland and other tragic school shootings. One example is legislation introduced by Kentucky House of Delegates member, Will Coursey, to “create trauma-informed schools” by increasing the number of school counselors. Coursey represents the district where the Jan. 23 shooting at Marshall County High School resulted in two deaths and multiple injuries. In his remarks at the rally on March 24 in Calvert City, KY, Cousey, who prided himself on his high NRA rating, told the crowd that he recently declined the invitation of Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president, to renew his membership.

The post-March call-to-action “Register. Educate. Vote. or REV” could well be the mantra for the larger trauma-informed, resilience building community. Part of our job is to educate all of these young leaders about the power of ACEs science to address many of the societal problems that lead to violence—addressing the root causes of trauma and preventing ACEs in the first place.

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