When I was eight years old (1960), I heard three gunshots fired in the apartment below mine. Fifteen minutes later, I watched as three bodies were carried out of my apartment building. The memory of those covered stretchers have never left my mind.
In 2007, one of my co-workers lost her teenage daughter to a stray bullet fired in a drive-by shooting. She was on her front porch, practicing a praise dance for her church. As I gazed at this beautiful young girl, lying so serenely in her casket, I wept. I remembered seeing her dance in her purple chiffon dress. She could have been anyone's child, even my own.
Gun violence will not stop until we make it stop. Just remember, it could be your child.
The traumatic effect that gun violence has on children, families and community should make every responsible adult, parent or not, stand up and say enough is enough. We need to make our voices and votes count. Too many of our young people are losing their lives because of a gun culture that makes it easy for someone to make a terrible mistake by taking another person's life or committing suicide. We all have a stake in a safer, gun free community. I support and I am a card-carrying member of Artists for Safe Kids.
Last year, a third grader from one of the schools where I worked was shot on the street in Boston. It barely made the news. Guns are so easy to get in our society, even in Massachusetts where we have strict gun laws. Even mass murders have become commonplace – in schools, churches. It seems no place is safe from gun violence. Citizens must speak out and demand that we place far greater controls on firearms in American society. It's appalling that so many in Congress have simply turned their backs on any responsibility for changing America's gun culture. It is long past time for the majority of citizens who believe in stricter gun laws to hold them accountable, and to urge action in all 50 states and on the national level!
Especially when they were teenagers, I would say to my kids as they were leaving for parts unknown, "Be safe. Please don't die." They were maniacal skateboarders. I knew they would get banged up, but I couldn't bear the thought of an injury too horrible to survive. Well, a gunshot could well be that injury too horrible to survive. And there are common sense things we can do to lessen the chance of that unthinkable outcome. ASK is important to me because I truly believe if we work hard we can effect change for the better, make this a safer, saner world for kids and the rest of us.
I don't know what to do about the violent use of guns in the United States, but I want to do something. It seems insane to me. Children deserve to grow up safely. From working to elect representatives who can enact sensible laws to affecting public opinion through stories, songs, and facts, ASK can be a voice for change in this difficult debate.
One of the hardest and best things I've ever done was to stand in front of three hundred elementary school children at 8:30 on the morning of December 17, 2012 and sing some songs. That Monday after the Newtown shootings, I was met at the door by teachers and administrators and told, "We're so glad you're here. We know you're going to help us through this."
Standing in front of those kids that morning – our future, and my reason for being – I knew I had a bigger job and promised myself I would do something to lessen gun violence. I promised myself I would speak out and say enough is enough – that we're better than this. As a musician and a storyteller, as a person who has spent his life trying to help children grow up in a way that would help them realize their dreams, I also know it's my job to make sure they grow up at all.
Looking into the faces of the school children in the many school assemblies I do each year, I often imagine their stories. Rightly so, these stories are mostly filled with joy and healthy optimism of their future lives. Alas, I sometimes choke up, as it is not lost on me that their future could be that of the many children killed or injured by gun violence. I'm overwhelmed by the need to everything we can to provide them with safe places to learn, grow and develop. ASK is working for common sense actions to make sure all children have the chance to build healthy and safe stories. I'm proud to be a part of the effort.
Our kids are built to experience the infinite shades and colors, hues and tones that make up our diverse and precious assemblage of life here on our planet. Yet adults can't agree on the simple idea that children need to be in a safe place as they grow and learn. If our representatives are not able to pass legislation for more effective gun control, we need to replace them with people who are committed to keeping kids safe by passing laws that do just that.
I am a run-of-the-mil middle class person who has lived in mostly safe neighborhoods in the countryside most of my life. Despite my relative safety, gun violence has touched me time and again. I've had relatives held up, and friends, students and neighbors either be wounded, murdered or commit suicide, all with guns. The time is NOW to stuff this senseless violence that runs like water through our communities. Let's pass serious gun use laws that will protect ALL of our children NOW.
We've lost our lands; we've lost our cultures, our traditions; we've lost our languages our identities. We've lost so much, now we are at risk of losing our children. We are losing our children to the spirit of violence. Our children are losing their innocence; our children are losing their spirit. It's up to us to protect the children, all our children. Stop the loss; stop the violence.
An old saying goes; better safe than sorry. It is applicable as we search for gun sanity guidelines that have nothing to do with control, but with the health and safety of our children, their siblings, parents and grandparents.
Children have a right to grow up in a society without the constant fear of gun violence.
As artists, educators and parents, it is our responsibility and our right to alert our communities to the lasting damage that violence inflicts on people of all ages. I support the work of Artists for Safe Kids – Standing for Gun Sanity (ASK).
I know first hand the effects of violence and guns on children. My partner and I have adopted the children of a relative who endangered his entire family with his arsenal of guns and abuse. We are doing what we can to break the cycle of violence in our family and the world and joining other artists as member of Artists for Safe Kids.
As a child, the bedrock of my life was the sure knowledge that my grandma would do anything to keep me safe. The first 'teachings' of my life were the traditional Native stories from her Kiowa Apache culture, which created the supportive, safe space I needed to be able to learn how to address life's experiences, respect my elders and love my culture. Those were the seeds that became my roots as an 'artist' – a storyteller – working in the schools for over thirty years now as an artist-in-education.
In the times we now find our children living through, I long for the childhood safety my grandma created and guarded for me. I've worked in schools during lock-downs caused by snipers, suffered to hear of violence in schools where I've told stories, spoken to children from kindergarten through college about their fears and experiences of gun violence, and tried to share stories that model ways to resolve conflict without violence or guns.
I join with the many dedicated voices supporting Artists for Safe Kids in this call to show our will, our strength and our love to protect our children and show them that the adults of their society are committed to creating and guarding a world that is safe and secure for them. Our children – for we must see each child as our collective treasure and responsibility – need and deserve to see that those charged with their care and safety have the resolve, the unity and the love to change society for the better for them.