The 6th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence

Yesterday was the 6th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Tragedy.  6 years ago, on December 14th, a 20-year-old man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School and gunned down 20 six and seven year olds, as well as 6 adults.

The weakness of blogging is that sometimes it cannot convey the emotional, breadth, and levity of words.  Stop and think about what I just described.

:: pause ::

Though not the first school shooting in America, it was at the time the deadliest school shooting in American history, and was also the fourth deadliest shooting of any kind in America.

Since then though, we've seen many mass shootings.  Some of them high profile, some that probably didn't even make newspapers headlines (there's a lot of discrepancy over exactly what makes a "mass shooting"), but of course we've all heard of Pulse Nightclub, Las Vegas Shooting, Marjory Stoneman Douglas...it often feels that Sandy Hook was way more than 6 years ago...but it's only been 6.

The National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence was conceived as an event to bring together survivors of gun violence, victims’ family members, concerned citizens, faith leaders, lawmakers, leaders of gun violence prevention organizations, and activists from across the nation. It's a moment to come together in both sorrow and hope.  To acknowledge our failings, and to find hope and love amongst each other as we continue our struggles towards decreasing the gun violence epidemic. It's a moment to say to the surviving family and friends of victims that we see you, we remember your loved ones, you and they are not forgotten, and to reaffirm that we will honor their memories with action, not simply with thoughts and prayers. 

Here in Chicago, Sandy Hook Elementary could literally be as far away as Mars.  Here, gun violence is not an isolated event, it's a daily occurrence. The last day Chicago logged a day without a shooting was February 28, 2015.

Stop....let's stop and think about that for a moment too.

:: pause ::

That's over 3 years and 9 months.  In that span of time, over 2,490 people have been killed, and 11,233 wounded.

How many people can fit into the space you are sitting in now?  Can 2,000 people fit into it?  What would that many people look like?

My first thought when I walked into the chapel of St. Paul and the Redeemer Episcopal Church (what an absolutely beautiful space)  this evening was that we so often talk numbers.  But, there is a different levity and starkness to the gun violence issue of our country when you talk names...when you see faces.

In the center of the chapel was an altar, with pictures of all the victims represented in the space.  So many faces.  Men, women, young kids; mostly black and brown, but white ones as well. During the vigil, the names of all gun violence victims (fatal) are read.  It's a moment for families, friends, and the community as a whole, to honor and acknowledge all of the people who have fallen victim to this public health epidemic.  Ultimately, we as a community, have failed all of those individuals.  Additionally, the names of the 26 Sandy Hook victims were also read.

I've worked professionally in the gun violence prevention sphere for almost 4 years now, but I floated on the periphery of this sphere even as a school teacher, because gun violence is a constant looming threat in Chicago; particularly in underfunded and unsupported communities, and underfunded schools.  And so we floated through the days, fearing every time we heard of a shooting in a particular neighborhood, afraid it was one of ours...

...and so I made the jump to making this my work.  In doing so, you are thrust into getting to know, and growing to love, so many survivors of gun violence.  So many parents, who've lost their children to gun violence.

While sitting in the St. Paul chapel, my mind drifted to Deborah Dean.  I met her about 3 years ago, while being a part of a Steve Harvey special about Chicago gun violence, back when his show recorded here.  I was randomly sat next to a woman holding a picture of a beautiful young lady in cap and gown.  She looked oddly familiar, so I asked the woman who she was.

"This is my daughter Shavon."

"Shavon Dean? I asked, to which she nodded.

I was very familiar with the story of Shavon Dean, and the equally tragic story of her murderer, Robert Sandifer, whom was later killed himself by fellow gang members, after a botched murder attempt resulted in the death of honor student Shavon, bringing too much heat down on the gang, and a citywide manhunt to find Robert.

I lived in the same neighborhood as Shavon and Robert.  She and I were the same age.  While I didn't know either individual, I can remember that time distinctly.  That was also the year my family moved out of Roseland...things were getting "too crazy" as I call it, shootings and gang violence becoming too much of an undercurrent  of daily life, even on our block, for my mother's comfort.

And now, I know so many mothers and fathers who've lost children.  As one mother said during the ceremony today,

"Strong is the only thing I have left." ~Delphine Cherry

Delphine is a personal friend of mine. The strength that she exhibits boggles my mind. Delphine did not lose 1, but 2 children to gun violence.  She was actually pregnant with her son Tyler when she lost her daughter Tyesa, who was shot by a stray bullet while walking out of a movie theater.  20 years later, she lost her son Tyler, shot in the driveway of their Hazel Crest home.  While soft spoken, Delphine is certainly one of the strongest people I know.  Not only does she carry the burdens of memory and loss, but she works tirelessly in the struggles of the gun violence prevention movement. I've watched Delphine talk to elected officials in Springfield, as well as in the streets of Chicago.  I've seen her march, and occasionally cry. I've also seen her laugh, and smile, and share in the victories that have also come over the last few years in respect to passing common sense gun legislation, at least in Illinois if not nationally.

However, I simply cannot imagine the pain...the torment that Delphine, and so many other parents like her have had to endure.  479 people have been shot and killed in Chicago this year.  That's 479 people with names, and faces, and jobs, and homes, and schools, and families, and parents, and children.

Let me say that the vigil tonight was beautiful.  There were so many amazing speakers, which I will list below, as well as notable attendees.

Gun violence is a public health epidemic.  I personally don't believe that statement is debatable.  It is not just a Chicago problem, or an inner city problem.  Gun violence isn't even singularly a "classic violence" problem as we often like to frame it: Alaska had the highest rates of firearm death in the United States in both 2016 and 2017, however, most of those deaths were catalogued as suicides.

This isn't a black problem, or a white problem.  It isn't an inner city problem...this is an everybody/everywhere problem.

And I firmly believe that this problem will only be effectively dealt with when we ALL come to the table.  It seems that gun violence is a constant conversation, but the truth is that it's not talked about enough.  There aren't enough people who know the ins and outs of the gun violence debate, and the specifics of what allows and perpetuates gun violence in American cities.

"Curing violence in one community is the responsibility of every community."
~ JB Pritzker, IL. Governor-Elect

I can't imagine not caring about the parents who were in that chapel tonight.  I cared before I knew them personally, and I most definitely care about them now.  Their struggle is my struggle, and if I could unburden their pain, and heap it upon my heart and my shoulders to give them even a moment of respite, I would.

But I can't.  But what I can do is help in their fight, to prevent other parents from joining their ranks.

We all need to be in this fight.  We all have a part to play.  We each have to figure out how deep into the waters we are able to get, but I so sincerely feel that not being involved at all is unconscionable.

I often challenge people to start by having conversations with friends.  Those conversations may be tough at first, but they get easier with practice. The purpose isn't to change minds, but to simply find understanding, of opinions, and of facts.

"We need to care about each other ~ Tamar Manasseh, Founder of M.A.S.K.

From there, you can get involved. There are many organizations here in Chicago doing amazing work around gun violence prevention.   You can start with a donation.  From there, attend a meeting or event (fundraisers are the best for first time contact with an organization, generally great social events with very low stakes).   Slowly, you can work yourself up the ladder of engagement.  Not only is this work so desperately needed, but it's fulfilling for the heart and soul.  It truly is.  

Additionally, I feel I would be remiss if I did not express my opinion on this matter, so I will do so now:
I personally do not donate to national organizations.  Many of them are doing great awareness and advocacy work, but there are way more local, Chicago grown organizations, who could use your $5 or $15, and will stretch it to continue the work they are doing. I feel the same about volunteering as well.  I have no animus towards any of the national organizations doing gun violence prevention work, but I don't feel that they know Chicago, or are as effective, as the organizations who have been doing this work, in this city, in some cases for over 40 years. If you'd like for me to expound on this sentiment, please contact me privately.

So I will end this by simply saying, get involved.  Please.  The more people who get involved, the more voices in the discussion, the more power we have to create positive change.  It will take more than just passing laws to decrease gun violence, but that too is an important part.  We all need to accept some of the weight and burden of uplifting our city.

Get started today, or tomorrow...but get started. The lives of all of us depend on it.
#WeSeeYou #HonorWithAction #EndGunViolence #ChicagoStandUp

"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are."

Chicago Gun Violence Prevention Organizations: (this is by no means a complete list)

So, have you been affected by gun violence? Are you involved in the gun violence prevention movement? If not, do you have plans to get involved? Let me know in the comments below.  

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This post was created on an HP Pavilion x360. 

 

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