It’s hard to believe that the unspeakable events in Newtown now occurred six months ago. What began as a normal school day for everyone ended with 26 dead, a town changed forever, and a nation struggling to understand the worst kind of tragedy humanly possible. I’ve made it clear on this blog where I stand on gun control, attending the Million Moms March back in January. We marched in freezing temps, hoping a law would be passed on stricter background checks as a start to relieving us all of any future pain. However, Congress sadly shot down the call for action a few months ago, leaving our nation in wonder and turmoil about the safety of our children.
The question remains. How can we keep our children safe? The editors at Essence, All You and Health and Real Simple came together and created a campaign called Make 1 Simple Change for their readers to submit ideas, ranging from better mental health care to gun control to reexamined societal values and beyond.
Six of the women who submitted ideas were invited to a panel discussion, led by the folks at Time, Inc. this morning in NYC, and I was lucky to be there. The panel included Colin Goddard, who survived the VA Tech Shooting and lives with three bullets remaining in his body. He is also Campaign Manager at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15 year-old shot standing in a Chicago park after taking her final exams, and Co-founder of Hadiya’s Foundation; Dr. Gail Saltz, Associate Professor or Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College and a Today show correspondent; Kelly Wallace, future CNN digital Correspondent; and the Honorable Christine Todd Whitman (all pictured above). Talk about using your voice to make a difference, they all were there to voice their opinion to impact change, which is so desperately needed.
Amongst the winning ideas in the 1 Simple Change campaign, was this one:
“We don’t allow anyone to drive a car until they are able to do so safely. Why can’t we do the same thing with guns? People should be trained and tested, both emotionally and physically, before they qualify to purchase a gun.” – Noemi Carlos-Armstrong of Tucson, Arizona
Another winner, Alicia Doyle Lynch, of Boston, submitted this idea:
“As a nation, we must remind ourselves of the importance of human compassion. When children are surrounded by kindness and positive relationships, they are happier, more engaged in school, and less likely to commit delinquent acts.”
And another, Dawn Moll, from Wisconsin, said this:
“We have to start treating mental-health care like we do cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a medical condition that we simply must find a cure for.”
That was the heart of the discussion. The fact that we need to do more about mental health services and make them as easy to get as it unfortunately is to get a gun. According to Dr. Saltz, only 4% of violent acts committed are by very ill people but the reality is that psychiatrists cannot always identify the patient who is going to be violent. We need background checks on people buy guns and more. 90% of Americans want something done about gun laws, according to Goddard, but there is more to it. States aren’t reporting mental health issues and hospitalizations and guns are ending up in the wrong hands. Something is clearly wrong.
Dr. Saltz said that there’s still stigma and shame around mental health issues. She said, “We need to think about building resilience in our children. They are an extension of us, and when things are not perfect, people don’t get help. We need to be less stigmatizing and talk to our children about our goals in life. Society has lost track of what’s important.”
The discussion made me think about my own children and the way I’m raising them. I don’t think that any mother wants to raise a killer. We are all a part of the problem. I hadn’t really thought about that before.
Tears came to my eyes when a winner of the campaign, Moll (mentioned above), stood up and told Cleopatra Pendleton whose heart was clearly broken and through her grief, has found a way to help others:
“I know how you feel. I know you’d rather not be here.”
She, too, had a child who was victim of a shooting, due to peer pressure, and the problem became bigger and more real for me as these two mothers looked into each other’s eyes with a knowledge they’d both rather not have.
As I myself sat in a room full of victims, the picture became clearer. And more frightening. The panel did talk about the need for the gun control and Congress’ lack of compassion a few months ago when they failed to pass legislation securing background checks. Whitman said that was a partisan issue, not a political issue. It left none of us protected.
The problem is just that big. It could happen to any of us or any of our children. No one is safe in this nation.
But it was not all bleak. There are things we can do. We can act.
Kelly Wallace talked about the use of social media to spread kindness: “We can use use our voices to create change. We all have a role to play and it is incumbent upon all of us to create change.”
Dr. Saltz spoke about our need to teach children empathy and social wellness. We can teach teachers, counselors, educators how to identify people early on who are at risk. Education can prevent peer-pressure and bullying, two issues that lead to senseless shootings.
Governor Whitman spoke about the creation of “safe zones” in schools where students, teachers, counselors and peers for more open dialogue. Schools need to guide parents on where to get an evaluation and how to afford it. People have to be willing to talk.
We all have a role. Whether we use social media or real life action to step in and make a difference, it’s up to us. Pay attention to how you’re raising your children and to the children around you. At school. In your neighborhood. Everywhere. Watch for signs that’s something wrong and let’s act. Before it’s too late.
Disclosure: I was invited as a guest on Time, Inc. but all opinions are my own.