A Letter From Parkland …

Today, February 14th 2019, marks one year since 17 people were killed, 14 of them students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  I would like to share with you a letter written by Jaclyn Corin, a senior at the school and the founder of March For Our Lives.  The letter was published yesterday in the New York Times.

Corin.jpgWhen I arrived at school on Feb. 14, 2018, like any junior, I was mostly caught up in Valentine’s Day chatter and events. But that all changed in the space of a few minutes that afternoon when a gunman opened fire on my classmates and my teachers, killing 17 of them and injuring just as many.

Despite the countless tragedies you see on TV, nothing prepares you for the day it happens to your community.

The familiar images of students fleeing their school as SWAT teams entered, of parents waiting by the perimeter desperately praying to get their kids back, were now my reality. They were my classmates and friends, too many of whom never came home.

After the shooting, my friends at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I decided we couldn’t sit by as school shootings and gun violence became a normal part of life in America. We were determined to turn an act of violence into a movement, to do everything we could to send a powerful message to the country and to Washington.Parkland-2.jpg

There’s not a day that goes by that I’m not reminded of the shooting. When I hear the sound of sirens or fireworks, I’m taken back to that horrific afternoon. For me, Valentine’s Day will now forever be a reminder of loss.

Yet our community isn’t alone in its tragedy. In 2017, nearly 40,000 Americans died as a result of guns, an average of 109 people a day. And according to a tally from Education Week, there were 24 school shootings that resulted in gun-related deaths or injuries in 2018 alone.

While several states have taken positive legislative measures in response, there have been zero bipartisan investigations or new laws from Congress.

Not a single federal law has been passed since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012 to address the crisis of school shootings. This year could be different — but only if we organize and insist on it.

Last week, Congress held its first hearing on gun violence prevention since 2011. This week, the House Judiciary Committee is poised to approve a bipartisan bill to requiring background checks for all gun purchases, a proposal that represents one important step toward keeping deadly firearms out of the wrong hands. However, it’s also likely this bill won’t get a hearing, let alone a vote, in the Senate.

That chamber’s majority leader, Mitch McConnell, needs to explain to all of us who have survived a shooting or lost someone to gun violence why the Senate won’t even vote on such a bill even though there’s been over half a million gun deaths since 2000, the year I was born.

And Americans should truly reckon with why this epidemic of gun deaths is treated so differently from any other health crisis in our country.

Imagine for a moment that all these gun deaths were caused by something else widely feared: airplane crashes. There’s no universe in which we wouldn’t see it as a national emergency worthy of our undivided attention.

In fact, 2017 was a remarkable year in aviation. No one died in a commercial airplane crash, meaning it was safer for me to fly than it was for me to go to high school. It would take hundreds of completely full Boeing 737 flights crashing without survivors to total the number of people who died by guns in America in just 2017.

If even a handful of such crashes occurred, the government would declare a national emergency. All 737s would be grounded, there would be an independent commission created to investigate the crisis, and Boeing would be called before Congress to answer for its failures.

So why then don’t more than 30,000 gun deaths in a year rise to the level of a national crisis for America’s conservative leaders?

The past year has been one with the deepest of lows and, at times, the highest of highs — moments when the hope that springs from fighting for a better world makes anything feel possible. On Thursday, the anniversary of the shooting, I will be in the only place that matters, nestled in my community and with my family.

And for the next four days, the organization I helped found, March For Our Lives, will go dark to honor those we lost and their memory.

I am deeply proud of all that my friends and I have accomplished in the last year. Still, I can’t help but wonder why so many lawmakers are ignoring — and, at their worst, enabling — the horrific gun deaths that occur in our country each day.

Parkland-1.jpgIn the year since the Parkland tragedy, nearly 1,200 more children have lost their lives to guns in this country.   When do we say, “Enough!!!”?  When do we put the lives of our children ahead of politics and corporate greed?  The sign above says it all … “Choose Me, Not Guns”.

Good People Doing Good Things – Steven A. Culbertson & YSA

In the wake of last Saturday’s successful and inspiring March For Our Lives across the nation and beyond, I thought it appropriate to highlight some of the things that are being done by the nation’s young people to make the world a little bit better place for us all.  Rather than highlight specific members of our youth, I am shining a big, bright light on a man who has done more than perhaps any other to assist kids in finding their path to being a powerful force.  You may remember that one of my Good People posts last November highlighted an organization called Youth Service America.

Steven A. Culbertson is President & CEO of YSA (Youth Service America), a global nonprofit activating youth, 5–25, to find their voice, take action, and acquire powerful skills as they solve problems facing their communities. The Nonprofit Times twice named him to its list of “The 50 most powerful and influential leaders” in the sector, saying, “Steve Culbertson has helped to position volunteering and young people as an issue and a national priority.”

Mr. Culbertson began his work with YSA in 1996, and I will let him tell you a little about his experiences in his own words, for his words are powerful and wise..

“When I took over the helm of Youth Service America from its founders 20 years ago this spring, I thought my job was going to be all about motivating apathetic youth, more interested in video games than saving the world.

I could not have been more wrong. Young people are volunteering at record rates, more than any generation in history.

Instead, my biggest challenge has been skeptical adults.

I’ve spent a good deal of the last two decades encouraging adults to remember their own childhoods, reminding them how powerful they felt when they were trusted, heard, respected, counted on, and asked to contribute.

Countless times, I’ve made the case with doubtful elected officials that young people need to be at the decision-making table, especially when issues that affect youth are on the public-policy agenda. As they say, if you are not at the table, you’re on the menu.

The history of the world is the history of power, and there is no question that young people become powerful when they bring their energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity to bear on the world’s problems. As the history of people who are African-American, women, immigrants, disabled, or LGBT reminds us, those in power do not share it easily.

The United Nation’s has publicly stated that the Global Goals will not be achieved without the significant contributions of young people around the world, so we have a lot of hearts and minds to change. A 16-year-old African girl in Lesotho told me that I was the first adult to give her permission to change the world. Less than a month later, I heard the identical complaint from a 16-year-old American girl from New York. When commencement speakers tell graduates that they are tomorrow’s leaders and the hope of the future, we put young people “on hold” at their most creative time in life. For too many youth, the promise of leadership never surfaces.

As adults, we must raise our expectations for what youth can accomplish in the present — as players, not spectators; as actors, not recipients. We simply cannot afford to wait for young people to grow up before they start tackling the biggest problems facing the planet — we need them to be the leaders and the hope of today.

When teenagers across the country took the reins of the gun safety debate after the high school massacre in Parkland, Florida, they reminded us that young people have always played a pivotal role in America’s common life, starting with the birth of our Nation. The average age of Founding Fathers like James Monroe and Alexander Hamilton was only 19 when they rebelled against the 38-year-old king of the most powerful empire in the world. The #NeverAgain students also honor other youth-led movements ranging from Women’s Suffrage, Voting Rights for 18-Year-Olds, Campus Free Speech, Ending the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement. In each case, youth leadership moved America forward, with some measure of kicking and screaming.

One question I’m constantly asked, often with skepticism, is “What do they actually do?”.

Well, if you’re pre-teens like Jackson Silverman, Katie Stagliano, and Will Lourcey, and you cared about hunger, you and your friends started nonprofits like I Heart Hungry Kids, Katies Krops, and Friends Reaching Our Goals. You then spend your adolescence feeding hundreds of thousands of people. Literally.

YSA also supports children and youth volunteering to end homelessness, climate change, illiteracy, gender inequality, middle school bullying, water scarcity, and just about every health, education, human service, human rights, and environmental issue on the planet. To measure our global impact in more than 100 countries, YSA aligns our outputs and outcomes with the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals, to build a better future for everyone.

When young people decide to tackle a problem, YSA suggests they do it ASAP. Yes, we want them contributing to the greater good today, long before they become adults. But we also recommend they change the world using one (or more) of the four ASAP strategies: Awareness, Service, Advocacy, Philanthropy.

Youth are powerful forces in raising awareness about big community problems. Consider their roles in successful public education campaigns to stop littering, start recycling, wear seat belts, and limit exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke. Today, YSA supports students raising awareness in their communities about everything from water conservation and clean energy, to the humane treatment of animals, childhood obesity, and the opioid addiction crisis.

The “S” in ASAP describes the traditional community service route many kids take. They clean beaches and parks, tutor younger students in English and math, teach seniors how to use technology, ladle soup in shelters, include their peers with disabilities in extra-curricular activities, deliver groceries to people The second “A” in ASAP is about advocacy and the common good. It may be the most difficult, but also the most sustainable contribution youth make, since it focuses on changing the rules of the game. It’s about inclusivity, fairness, and equality in policies and laws. Since it may buck tradition and age-old power structures, youth advocacy requires intense working sessions with public officials, as well as compromise and patience. One project YSA supported with a grant was the Texas Hunger Warriors. After studying the official hunger statistics, these third-grade students decided it was unfair that 1 in 5 of kids like them lived in food insecurity. So they donned orange t-shirts, rallied in front of the State Capitol in Austin, and worked with the Legislature to pass the Texas Breakfast Bill. Don’t tell them that 9-year-olds can’t change the world!

The “P” in ASAP is for philanthropy. Bake sales for the hungry, lemonade stands for the Tsunami victims, car washes to help refugee kids, and even 46 hour Danceathons at Penn State that raise more than $10 million for children’s cancer every year. Sometimes it just takes money to solve the problem.

When young people serve their community ASAP they gain experience and agency, but they also learn critical workplace skills valued by every employer on the planet — empathy, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication. They become more likely to vote, give money to charity, and participate in the civic life of their community for a lifetime.

Congressman John Lewis, who was handcuffed and bashed on the head as a teenager trying to make “A More Perfect Union” describes student activism like the #NeverAgain movement as youth getting into “good trouble.” Oprah went so far as to compare the Parkland students to the white and black students who banded together as Freedom Riders during the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.

The history of the world is the history of power, so it’s high praise to be compared to another generation of young people who succeeded in changing the world. It’s also a high bar. But armed with the courage to turn their unfathomable grief into something positive, plus their cell phones, social media accounts, lots of adult champions, and a natural dose of energy, commitment, idealism, and creativity, we must be optimistic they will succeed.”

This man has dedicated the last 22 years of his life to helping our youth to be all that they can be, and I think he deserves a huge round of applause.  Next week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the young people he mentioned who have done great things.  Thank you, Mr. Culbertson, for showing us just how much our kids are capable of, if we just give them the guidance and a little bit of encouragement.

Wise Words from a Wise Man …

John Paul Stevens served as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice from 1975 until his retirement in 2010.  He was nominated to the court by a republican president, Gerald R. Ford.  Today, Justice Stevens wrote an OpEd for the New York Times that I think should be read by every person in the United States. I was amazed by his opinion, given his 35 years of interpreting and enforcing the U.S. Constitution, and I think you will be too.  And so, I will let Justice Stevens speak for himself:

Rarely in my lifetime have I seen the type of civic engagement schoolchildren and their supporters demonstrated in Washington and other major cities throughout the country this past Saturday. These demonstrations demand our respect. They reveal the broad public support for legislation to minimize the risk of mass killings of schoolchildren and others in our society.

That support is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms. But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.

Concern that a national standing army might pose a threat to the security of the separate states led to the adoption of that amendment, which provides that “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” Today that concern is a relic of the 18th century.

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

In 2008, the Supreme Court overturned Chief Justice Burger’s and others’ long-settled understanding of the Second Amendment’s limited reach by ruling, in District of Columbia v. Heller, that there was an individual right to bear arms. I was among the four dissenters.

That decision — which I remain convinced was wrong and certainly was debatable — has provided the N.R.A. with a propaganda weapon of immense power. Overturning that decision via a constitutional amendment to get rid of the Second Amendment would be simple and would do more to weaken the N.R.A.’s ability to stymie legislative debate and block constructive gun control legislation than any other available option.

That simple but dramatic action would move Saturday’s marchers closer to their objective than any other possible reform. It would eliminate the only legal rule that protects sellers of firearms in the United States — unlike every other market in the world. It would make our schoolchildren safer than they have been since 2008 and honor the memories of the many, indeed far too many, victims of recent gun violence.

I tip my hat to Justice John Paul Stevens for this editorial.  His words are wise and timely. Of course we all realize that to repeal the 2nd amendment would require passage of another amendment, and that this is about as likely as me growing wings and flying off to England to visit my friend Mary!  Justice Stevens also realizes this.  But the point, nonetheless, is well made and it is my belief that someday, perhaps not for another 70 years, but someday there will be significant restrictions on gun ownership.  And now … 10 … 9 … 8 … we surely won’t have long to wait for the NRA’s response, and I could almost write the script … 7 … 6 …

Thumbs Up — March For Our Lives!

On Saturday over 800 March For Our Lives events, organized by young people, took place around the globe, from New York to Dallas to Seattle, but also in London, Tokyo, Sydney and Mumbai!  This was not some minor protest that will be forgotten by next week.  Nope, folks, this was a BIG DEAL.  These young people had a message and they sent it loud and clear:  It’s time to stop the gun madness in the U.S. – NOW!!!  I support them 100%, and I am so very proud of anyone and everyone who marched, helped organize or contributed in any way to these events.

Think how amazing this is.  The students who survived the February 14th tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, organized the rally in Washington, D.C. and from there, others picked up the baton and ran with it.  This map shows where rallies and marches were held throughout the U.S.map-1

map-2The crowds at the event in Washington were initially estimated to be around 500,000, but by most estimates on Saturday were closer to 800,000!  (Not to be smug, but the inaugural crowds last year were in the ballpark of only 600,000)  I couldn’t have said it any better than President Barack Obama …“This was all because of the courage and effort of a handful of 15- and 16-year-olds, who took the responsibility that so often adults had failed to take in trying to find a solution to this problem, and I think that’s a testimony to what happens when young people are given opportunities, and I think all institutions have to think about how do we tap into that creativity and that energy and that drive. Because it’s there. It’s just so often we say: ‘Wait your turn.’”And make no mistake … there have been many fools who tried to tell these young people to “wait your turn”, and they brushed those naysayers aside and went on to do what their hearts and minds told them to do.  I cannot possibly do justice to all the special moments, but here are a few:

  • Nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, granddaughter of the late, great Martin Luther King, gave a short but moving speech:
    • “My grandfather had a dream that his four little children would not be judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character. I have a dream that enough is enough and that this should be a gun free world. Period.”
  • George and Amal Clooney donated $500,000 for the Washington event and marched alongside demonstrators, as did Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg and other celebrities too numerous to name.
  • U.S. Representative and Civil Rights hero John Lewis gave an impassioned speech where he said he was proud of the “F” rating he has from the NRA.

But by far the stars of the show were the speeches by the survivors of the Parkland tragedy and the signs!  Take a look at some of these signs, folks!Rally Held In Parkland, Florida Calling For Increased Gun Safety Laws Ahead Of Weekend's National Marchessignage-3signage-4And then there was Emma González’ moment of silence.  Actually, about six minutes and 20 seconds of silence, the amount of time it took for the Parkland gunman to complete his rampage and flee the school.

A student survivor of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting last month held several minutes of silence Saturday at the “March for Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C., to honor the 17 students and faculty killed in the shooting. Taking the stage mid-afternoon after several other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School survivors spoke, Emma González remained silent for six minutes before explaining it was the approximate time it took for the Parkland gunman to complete his rampage and flee the school.

“Six minutes and about 20 seconds. In a little over six minutes, 17 of our friends were taken from us, 15 were injured, and everyone, absolutely everyone in the Douglas community was forever altered. Fight for your lives, before it’s someone else’s job.”

These young people are the next generation.  They are the ones who will lead this nation 20, 30 or 40 years from now, perhaps even sooner.  Let us hope that they do not become jaded, that they keep their strong humanitarian values, that they effect the change our own generation is too consumed by greed and materialistic ‘values’ to do.  My thumbs, all of them, are up to these young people!  Thank you all!

Meanwhile, my thumbs go down 👎🏼 to the following:

  • Former republican senator Rick Santorum, who said, “How about kids, instead of looking to someone else to solve their problem, do something about maybe taking CPR classes or trying to deal with situations [so] that when there is a violent shooter, that you can actually respond to that?”  (They should learn CPR so that next time their friends are shot, they can keep them breathing???)
  • The National Rifle Association (NRA) who posted on Facebook: “Stand and Fight for our Kids’ Safety by Joining NRA. Today’s protests aren’t spontaneous. Gun-hating billionaires and Hollywood elites are manipulating and exploiting children as part of their plan to DESTROY the Second Amendment and strip us of our right to defend ourselves and our loved ones.”  (So much stupidity that there really is no response for this!)
  • Whomever doctored this image to make it look as if Emma González were ripping the U.S. Constitution in half, when in fact she was ripping a gun-range target. The image went viral on social media, firing up the already witless staunch defenders of the second amendment.

emma gonzales - doctored tweetSemper Fidelis, young people.