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More Heartbreak at the End of a Challenging Year

It was with incredible shock and sadness that I read the BBC notification as it lit up my phone at dinner. My son and I were out to eat and there it was... ANOTHER school shooting with more innocents dead and this was on the heels of a race-motivated shooting in Buffalo.

The Columbine Massacre happened the year I graduated college. Until that point, things like this didn't happen or at least weren't a common occurrence. We all watched in terror as we learned of the students at that high school and the unfortunate nature of the young man who committed the misguided crime. There was grief and an outpouring of calls for something to be done - stricter gun laws, mental health reform, tighter security at schools etc.

After Columbine, our psyches were forever changed. Something within us was broken but we tried to put the pieces back together. Documentarians like Michael Moore tried to address the problems in films like Bowling for Columbine which shed light on a variety of different issues that I remember at the time created increased anger about the situation.

A few years after Columbine, I would start my career as an educator in 2001 in the wake of 9/11. The world was certainly a different place than that of my childhood. And when folks found out where I was working, an inner-city NY public school, they often asked me if I was afraid to work there. Just six months into my first year, we had been named one of the 12 most violent schools and put on every list. Despite that infamous recognition, I was never afraid to work there. I loved my kids and my school community.

It was in that first year of teaching that I encountered my own experience with senseless death when a student was accidentally shot by one of his cousins who was playing with a loaded gun that wasn't locked. I had never been that close to something like that and the school went into full grief mode. Aside from the counselors being on call, the already extensive security in our building, and now the additional kinds of drills that had been introduced since Columbine, I was in disbelief that stuff like this could happen.

That same year, a student of mine was stabbed in a gang-related incident on his way to school and I was ignorant enough to accuse him of cutting school for a month only to be grossly humiliated by my own hubris when he provided hospitalization paperwork upon his re-entry. Talk about white fragility... I was an idiot who made a lot of assumptions regardless of how much I thought I was doing to help.

From that moment on, I had to keep myself from making snap judgments and vehemently protect the new child I had myself and the children of many others who I had the privilege to teach.

In the years that followed there would be countless other tragedies in schools and institutions all leading up to COVID and the abhorrent misconduct perpetrated against people of color.

Where we stand now, we have to ask ourselves at what point do we demand laws be changed, minds are opened, and divides be diminished?

There is so much healing to be done - so much social change to make and so many senseless acts of hate and hurt to be eradicated.

As I write this, my heart aches for the families who have lost loved ones and for those who live with loved ones stigmatized with mental health challenges. It's time for change.


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