Five years ago, we kissed our youngest children goodbye as they climbed the bus to go to school. Less than two hours later, they were gone forever, murdered in their first-grade classrooms at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Our children live on in our work through Sandy Hook Promise, the group we launched to advocate for common-sense legislation to keep schools safe and to provide free programs to schools across the country so they could learn the signs of at-risk behavior and intervene before violence occurs. Sweet little Daniel, who exemplified kindness and compassion, is part of every student who learns to Start With Hello and include others. Beautiful butterfly Dylan reminds us that through small changes, we can make a big impact, like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings that creates a storm on the other side of the world. Every time we’re in a school, especially in front of sixth-graders, we look at the eyes watching us and think of the two boys who should also be in sixth grade now, but are instead forever first-graders. It breaks our hearts every time, but it also strengthens our resolve.
We’ve made a lot of progress in Daniel and Dylan’s names. Our “Know the Signs” programs are in over 7,000 schools and have already stopped multiple school shooting and suicide threats. Sandy Hook Promise programs have also reduced acts of self-harm and bullying, and connected many kids to the mental health services they need. We’ve made policy progress as well, such as the passage of the STOP School Violence Act in the House last week.
It’s not enough, though. Gun violence is still our nation’s waking nightmare, taking more lives every day. We work as hard as we can to teach gun violence prevention and pass legislation, but we can’t work fast enough. America’s children are still being killed.
The school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., last month brought us to our knees, tearing our hearts open yet again. We started to hear the same conversation that we always hear after a tragedy — “thoughts and prayers,” “it’s not time to talk about gun legislation,” “nothing is going to change.”
But this time, something was different.
The students at Parkland decided they were going to lead the fight. Their energy, their intelligence, their clarion call to adults begging them to save their lives has breathed new life into the movement and created a massive new base of youth who want — and demand — a better future.
What parent can listen to their child begging for their help and not act?
Adults have been working on gun violence prevention for three decades, with minimal results. Almost every attempt disintegrates into an intense and divisive debate that leaves many entrenched in extreme viewpoints while alienating the vast majority in the middle, who just tune the whole thing out because they believe nothing will change.
We will never stop working to deliver on our promises to Daniel and Dylan. But right now, it’s time for us — for all adults — to step aside and let the students lead. These brave Parkland students can stand on our shoulders. We will stand with them to help them raise their voices even louder and empower other students to join them to create the future they want to live in. Even after the tragedy in Parkland, we have seen still more school shootings in this country. Just Tuesday, a student opened fire at a school in St. Mary’s County, Md., injuring two others.
That’s why we will be marching in Washington on Saturday. Joined by Daniel’s older siblings and Dylan’s big brother, we’ll march for Parkland. We’ll march for Sandy Hook. We’ll march for the approximately 7,000 kids who have been killed by firearms since Sandy Hook. And we’ll march for our surviving children, for their future. A future safe from gun violence.
If Daniel and Dylan had lived, they would be marching as sixth-graders with the Parkland students. Though they are gone, their spirits live on and we know they will be marching at our sides.
We hope you will join us, too.