It is 6am.
On a little white table in a pink and white room, a Disney princess alarm clock sounds, marking the beginning of the day. Mommy comes up the hallway to the pink room, opens the door and makes her way over to the bed. Her daughter is cocooned in her sheets, her light brown hair everywhere, her forehead covered in beads of sweat.
<Did she have a nightmare? Is she scared? Was she affected by the news story that came on last night while she was watching TV?>
She is so still. Mommy rubs her forehead with her hand and moves her hair out of her face.
“Honey. It’s time to get up.”
Her daughter opens one eye. “Already?”
“Yes sweetie. If you want to go to school, now is the time to get up. Are you sure you want to go to school today?”
“Why Momma? Because of the shooting?”
“Yes, sweetie. If you feel afraid you don’t have to go to school. You can stay home with me. I’m working from home today.”
“I’m not afraid.”
“How do you feel?”
“I feel sad. I feel sad for the Mommas who didn’t get to pick up their kids from school.”
Mommy was surprised that her first feeling was sadness for others. This surreal conversation took some thought to process. She was watching the world and learning how to feel from what she was seeing.
“I want to go to school. It’s our last day.”
“Ok honey. I’ll take you to school.”
And they continued to prepare for school as if nothing had happened.
But something had happened.
19 children had been shot and killed when a gunman entered their classroom wearing body armor and carrying a handgun, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle and high-capacity magazines and began shooting. In the aftermath, hearts across our nation are broken. In this dystopian version of the reality that we should be living, guns have overtaken car crashes as the primary cause of death for young children. Wildly, to say so introduces controversy. Somehow it is not OK to say that guns kill children.
The reality is that we have failed to prioritize children’s safety. Anyone who cares for children is reeling from the tragedy of children being unsafe. Any parent knows the fear of sending their children into an environment where something like this can happen. We all go to great lengths to protect children. And these constant acts of violence directed against children have done much to make us all feel hopeless.
What can we do?
Across Oak Park, across Chicago, across Illinois, children need to be part of every discussion. Their needs must become so prevalent and widely discussed that action becomes unavoidable. We must speak on their behalf. There are thousands of young children in our community, and none of them make it into the room where change is enacted. So, we must bring their voices into the room with us.
This, then, is my invitation to you.
Wherever you find yourself in the community, in whatever meetings you attend, I invite you to bring up children. If you own a small business, spend some time today thinking about children and how you can make room for them in your work. If you are a provider, talk to other people about the children in your care. If you are an elected official, think about the place for children’s concerns in your work. In your church, synagogue, temple or other place of worship, talk about children and the place for their voices in your worship. Wherever you are, think about children and how they fit. Think about the promise of hope that we have given them.
Bring children’s perspectives out into the world with you. When people talk about community violence, raise your hand and ask about children. When we talk about recovery and trauma, remind people that children are here as well. Let our community partners and leaders grow to know us for our relentless defense of children… and our unapologetic stance in support of their right to safety and protection.
Stand up for children. Be the one that brings children into the room. Become a voice for children.
We need to mourn. And we need to be upset. We need to be outraged that this can happen in our country. Then we need to take that sadness and turn it into a fiery passion. That fire will attract others, and soon enough that momentum that we have gathered will start to feel a lot like hope: hope that when enough of us bring children into a room, that children will start to matter.
Join us today in lifting up children’s needs. And perhaps tomorrow they will be the ones to sign the legislation that we needed yesterday.
John Borrero, Executive Director, Collaboration for Early Childhood