I read a letter to the editor in The Gazette on Sunday, Feb. 18 and was stunned by its opening line.
"My name is Ursen Winter Black, and I am writing this because I am afraid of going to school every day."
My heart sank. I cried openly and read as this young man bravely opened his heart saying, "I'm afraid for my friends, for the teachers, security and staff of our campus. We live in a country where the public education system has been made into a stage for fear and violence."
God help us.
Colorado is no stranger to gun violence. Some of our most famous incidents include the Columbine School massacre in 1999 and the Aurora Theater shooting in 2012. Other active gunman occurrences closer to home include the Planned Parenthood shooting and the Platte Ave. shooting in 2015. In Colorado Springs, the most recent active shooter confrontation was this February with the death of deputy Micah Flick.
As reported in The Denver Post, Del Elliott, founding director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of the University of Colorado at Boulder says that Colorado is in the bottom third statistically for gun violence. "But the particular form of this violence - shooting with massive amounts of death - we do seem to have more of that."
And with each episode, children in our state are further traumatized. These shooting occurrences are news because of their rarity. They do not happen often, but the 24/7 news cycle makes it feel larger than life and part of our everyday routine.
Most schools are safe and go on without incident daily. But surely we can see how the emotions attached to this recent school shooting could drown those facts out. Especially for a child.
This is not up for debate. We the people, must demand that we stop the political status quo of fighting for the advantaged position. Our view of this issue as a puzzle with a piece missing is incorrect. There is no easy single solution.
We must see these active shooter incidents as a puzzle that has only the corners and framing pieces joined. There are many pieces that have to be fitted together to form the right picture. Many of us support at least one of the pieces. That's a start.
We must address gun safety. And appropriate access. We must talk about mental health. We must coordinate between law enforcement, schools and other agencies including the FBI. We may need cameras and security personnel or armed guards at schools.
This is not a puzzle that we can solve at a leisurely pace.
We must put these pieces together quickly. Before more lives are lost.
Children like Ursen show us the goal. " I hope that someday the power to kill will never be brought into a school campus again, and we can look back on these dark times as a distant nightmare."
Young people are raising their voices in protest because those of us in authority have not kept them safe. We owe the children of this nation a heartfelt apology. And then we must stop our political grandstanding long enough to put the solutions into place.
I believe that respect for authority is the cornerstone of development in life for a child. But only when that respect is earned. Admitting to wrongdoing is a profoundly shaming experience. It's worse when apologizing to a child.
With this in mind, I swallowed my pride and penned these words to a young man who earned them with his uncommon courage.
I am deeply sorry that you have become convinced that school is unsafe. I add my tears to yours, as I apologize for the failure of the adults around you to help you to feel safe in school. We may not be able to use all of your ideas, but I know that we in my generation must find a way to do better. Now.
You can read Ursen's letter here: http://bit.ly/2EJq8MQ.
Rachel Stovall is a longtime community advocate and organizer. Also a fundraising, media and marketing consultant, Stovall is most known for singing with her dance band Phat Daddy and the Phat Horn Doctors.