June 1st, 2007
2007 DAY OF NATIONAL CONCERN ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE AND GUN VIOLENCE: OCTOBER 24
Since I last wrote to you, we have witnessed the worst mass shooting in U.S. history. The massacre at Virginia Tech was all the more tragic because most of Seung Hui Cho's victims were young people full of promise and potential, standing at the threshold of their lives.
MESSAGE TO YOUNG PEOPLE
The Student Pledge Against Gun Violence has become more important and relevant than ever because of its message of hope and empowerment. There are several things that we can and should say to young people who may now feel more vulnerable than ever:
* While there are no guarantees about anyone's absolute safety, most of the factors that go into keeping yourselves safe are within your control.
* Your and your friends' ability to stay safe is closely related to the decisions you make. You can make conscious choices not to perpetuate and not to escalate disputes that have begun over turf battles, boyfriends or girlfriends, or someone's disrespecting you. Cycles of revenge need to be broken, and refusing to retaliate against someone is a sign of strength, not weakness.
* If you are in a situation of escalating tension, and especially if drugs, alcohol, or guns are present, your best course of action is to leave the scene.
* By committing yourselves to the course of action embodied in the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence and encouraging your school's or community's participation in it, you are becoming an active link with other young people and communities committed to ending gun violence.
In what follows, I want to tell you about some new materials we have created that we hope will be useful and some additional resources created by others that you can draw on.
Increasingly, schools and community leaders tell us that they want to keep the message of the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence alive and active throughout the year. They have also expressed the wish for even more awareness-building activities to help sustain and reinforce students' commitments. The ideas below represent some of the most creative suggestions that have come out of meetings here in Minnesota with middle- and high-school students and educators. Not all of them are new; some of them already appear on our website and in our information packets. The use of these activities throughout the year can help create an environment of on-going and open discussion about gun violence. The activities can be adapted for different ages, events, and times of year:
* Ask students to write stories about "the rest of their lives" for figures whose lives were cut short by gun death. The students might write about Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, John Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, or other famous figures, imagining what they might have been able to accomplish if their lives had not been abbreviated. They might do the same by imagining the life that a friend killed by gun violence could have had.
* Sponsor poster, poetry, and essay contests about gun violence, with a different focus for each grade level so that students can take part each year without repeating the activity of the year before.
* Gather statistics about young people and gun violence and post them in the school's corridors.
* Read and discuss age-appropriate books such as Sherri Chessen's "The Gorp's Gift," for elementary-aged children, and Walter Dean Myers' "Scorpions" for older students.
* Draw from the VOW Project's curriculum suggestions, available at www.pledge.org.
* Organize a concert that celebrates peace.
* Designate one person in each homeroom to look at the paper each day and clip any news stories about a young person (under age 19) who gets shot. Hand out black armbands with the names of gun victims.
* Give students the assignment of conducting group interviews with people who deal with gun violence on a daily basis: a doctor, an emergency room worker, an ambulance driver, a police officer, a reporter who covers violent crime, etc. Each group will prepare a report for the class.
* Collect signed pledges and have community leaders and students take them to the family of a young person who was shot. Tell the family about the students' pledge to see that other families will not have similar losses.
* Create a wall of remembrance and ask people to post stories about people they know of or have read about who died from guns.
* Plan an all-school assembly where speakers may include gunshot survivors, an emergency room physician or inspiring community leaders.
* Sponsor a contest for a Student Pledge cheer or slogan. Ask your school's cheerleaders to lead the winning cheer at a sporting event.
* Ask music classes to compose catchy songs that include the SPEAK-UP phone number in them. (SPEAK-UP is a national hot-line sponsored by PAX that allows students to make anonymous reports about suspected violent threats in schools.)
* In media classes, invite students to create a public service announcement for television or radio about the Student Pledge and the Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence. See if you can get a local station to run it on the air. If not, play the PSA at a school assembly.
* Hold a youth summit on the Day of National Concern and invite local officials, law enforcement, youth representatives, and parents to pool their best ideas for reducing youth gun violence. Invite participants to form an on-going task force.
* Invite local officials to schools on the Day of National Concern to witness the signing of the Pledges.
* Plant a local peace garden in memory of young people who have died from guns.
* Encourage dialogue with young people and community leaders by inviting students to write to their mayor, sheriff, police chief, or legislators with their ideas for reducing gun violence. Have a "talk-back" session with open mikes in which community leaders respond to the students' ideas.
* Hold a candlelight vigil for victims of gun violence.
* Hold a community celebration honoring students who have signed the Pledge Against Gun Violence.
* For the Day of National Concern, ask a local radio station to host a show about young people and gun violence. Get elected officials, young people, and popular role models to participate. For example, Chicago's B-96 radio station contributes an hour of commercial-free time each year on the Day of National Concern. In the past, they have enlisted the participation of Sammy Sosa, Brian Urlacher, the Cardinal of the Catholic Archdiocese, Mayor Richard Daley, and this past year, Senators Richard Durbin and Barack Obama!
The organizations mentioned below are doing good work to reduce gun injuries and deaths among young people:
* Common Sense about Kids and Guns offers an interactive virtual house tour with practical suggestions and tips on safe storage of firearms. Their website also provides statistics, useful facts, and referrals to other resources. To learn more about it, visit www.kidsandguns.org.
* The ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Campaign is a program that encourages parents to know whether there are guns in the homes that their children will be visiting and, if so, to find out how they are stored. SPEAK UP provides an anonymous national hot line that allows young people to report guns in school or potential violent threats with no fear of discovery. Both the ASK Campaign and SPEAK UP are programs of the gun violence prevention organization, PAX. To learn more about them, go to www.paxusa.org.
* "Increase the Peace, a Program for Ending School Violence" by Steven Gevinson, David Hammond, and Phil Thompson is a Heinemann Press publication that comes with an interactive DVD that provides role-playing scenarios for situations in which students might be called on to make life-saving choices. It suggests ways in which educators can structure useful discussion with students.
Our goal for the coming months is to create two additional units dealing with gun violence prevention that can be used to precede and complement the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence.
The first, to be called "Consequences" will consist of interviews with those who have been directly affected by gun violence. We've asked for the help of the Chicago Police Department, which has worked actively with the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence, in identifying disabled former gang members as well as innocent victims of gun violence. We will video-record the reminiscences of these people as well as those of former inmates who have served time for illegal gun use. The goal of this unit or component will be to present in graphic and dramatic terms and images the human costs of gun violence.
The second, to be called "Beyond Retaliation" will consist of a series of video-recorded conversations with those who were able to transcend the need for payback or revenge by finding greater satisfaction in forgiveness and work to reduce gun violence.
These two new units or components will build logically towards the final unit: "Making Good Decisions." The final unit of this comprehensive gun-violence prevention program will culminate with the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence and The Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence.
If we can get funding, we hope to be able to make these new units available on DVD.
AN INSPIRING IDEA
Finally, I want to share with you the idea suggested by a college student in Washington DC at American University. He called to ask what I thought about the idea of a national candlelight vigil on next fall's Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence. I told him that I thought it would be a beautiful way to memorialize those who died at Virginia Tech and to record our determination to prevent future gun deaths.
I welcome your ideas about how we might implement a national candlelight vigil on October 24. Would it make sense, for example, to go across time zones: e.g. 9:00 pm EST, 8:00 CST, 7:00 Mountain Time, and 6:00 pm West Coast Time, so that the country could share a powerful moment?
Would it be feasible to combine a national candlelight vigil with the singing of the beautiful three-part musical round, "Dona Nobis Pacem?" Think of the power of people all over the country lifting their voices at the exact same moment to sing our appeal: "Give us Peace" from the gun violence that takes too many of our citizens.
Please be in touch and let us know how we can support your efforts -- whether in one classroom or school, or in an entire community.
With best wishes,
Mary Lewis Grow
Founder and National Coordinator