I’m inspired by the youth from Parkland, Florida. They are piercing the numbness so many have succumbed to when faced with news of yet another school shooting. They’re engaging in dialogue with youth from America’s inner cities and making the important connection between school shootings at affluent suburban schools and the gun violence that robs the lives of thousands of youth in our country’s forgotten neighborhoods.
I’ve seen this violence up close. When I was 24, I worked together with a coalition of non-profits, religious organizations, and community groups to combat violence in the city where I was living at the time. One night near the end of winter, the coalition steering committee put the finishing touches on planning a community peace festival. I left the meeting and had dinner on my mind as I pulled out on to the street in front of the community center. I stopped at the first intersection and, just seconds later, heard three loud POP POP POPs.
When I looked up from ducking in my seat, three young men were running for their lives toward my car. Two of them broke left and flew onto the sidewalk. The third runner—a 15 year-old boy—began to falter as he raised his hand to his chest.
I had no idea then that a bullet had just entered his heart.
I pulled my car over and walked cautiously toward the boy as he stumbled to the sidewalk. When I caught up with him, he was banging on the front door of the local theater next to the community center. It took a few seconds to register that there were two men on the other side of the door preventing the boy from coming inside the theatre. Moments later, the boy fell to the sidewalk, motionless.
Homicide detectives, a police helicopter, and at least seven squad cars descended on the block. I watched over the shoulder of the police officer questioning me as paramedics lifted the boy’s body off the sidewalk and loaded him onto the ambulance.
Near the end of the interview, the officer listened to a dispatch on his radio, looked at me and, without blinking, said, “The kid didn’t make it.”
As I would learn in the coming weeks and months, the kid was the son of a mother who’d fled her country in search of a better life for her children in America. The kid was a star athlete in two sports at his local high school. The kid was a peacemaker known for standing up for others and diffusing fights between black and Latino students at school.
We sat in the parking lot for the next several hours for more police questioning. I overheard theatregoers complaining how cold it was outside and how angry they were at missing their favorite TV show.
I developed a bone-deep understanding that night that the root cause of much of the violence and inequality in the world is precisely this kind of numbness to the inherent dignity of each person’s life. These theatregoers had just seen a young boy in the final moments of his life, and yet they spoke about it with the same detachment you’d expect from someone discussing an episode of CSI.
Physical violence exists on a continuum that includes the bullying we work to eradicate at No Bully. According to Mahatma Gandhi, “Passive violence fuels the fire of physical violence.” Gandhi argued that if we want to put out the fires of physical violence, we must first identify and eliminate the fuel supply of passive violence—which includes everything from vast income inequalities to the daily indignities of being a target of verbal and relational bullying.
At the March For Our Lives on March 24th, hundreds of thousands of people throughout America gathered to pledge that we will no longer tolerate our nation’s collective numbness and inaction in response to young people being murdered every day in our schools and streets. Several members of our team at No Bully attended the March for Our Lives in San Francisco. Our Development Coordinator Sophie Cary shared the following impressions: “It was incredible to feel the Civic Center Plaza pulsing with energy as supporters poured onto the green from every street to support the March for Our Lives. Students, grandparents, parents with their infants in tow, and people of all races were present—for me this really speaks to how this movement slices through many social barriers and goes straight to the heart, tapping into our collective humanity.”
Sophie concluded that, “The clarion call was to shift our strategy if we want to really change the future of our youth—because what we’ve been doing hasn’t worked.”
Justin Javier, our Administrative Assistant, observed that, “Having youth speakers is really important as they are the future generation of this nation. They will be directly affected by this if things don’t change.” Justin noted that the speakers at the event “urged us to not sign up to the collective narrative that mass shootings are the norm.”
No Bully is dedicated to continuing to change the collective narrative around bullying and violence in schools around the county. Bullying is not inevitable or unpreventable. It is not just a part of growing up or building “character.” It is something we can end in our lifetimes.
With our sights set on the future, let’s all continue doing our part to create a world where the violence and bullying we see today are impossible for future generations to even imagine.