Well said Monte
Newtown is no longer just a place, but a movement
We can't turn back the clock on the many senseless acts of violence. But we can choose how we respond to those acts
The day I have been dreading for a long time is almost here. This upcoming Saturday is 14 December, a year since that dark day when evil visited my town killing 20 children and 6 educators at the Sandy Hook School, that wonderful community school down the road from me.
I feared that we would be hurled back to that awful period following 12/14 when the media overran the Connecticut town no one had heard of, a time when we could not sleep, we spent our days pretending to be strong for our children, and we quietly escaped into the bathroom to cry. But now that the "day" is so near, my trepidation has subsided. At the six-month "anniversary" Newtown Reverend Matt Crebbin ended the interfaith service he led by blaring Bob Marley through the Church's sound system: "One Love! One Heart! Let's get together and feel all right." He was right. Newtown got America together and began building a partnership among communities from coast to coast, all united to reduce gun violence, and, it feels all right – or, at least, a little lighter.
On the cusp of the anniversary, I have HOPE, hope that because of this new coalition of Americans, "change is gonna come". Newtown is no longer just a place, but a movement.
That movement will be on full display this week as Americans from very different communities lock arms and honor the memories of the more than 30,000 victims of gun violence since 12/14 by performing acts of kindness. We will honor those lost with action.
The week of action kicks off at the New Britain, Connecticut YWCA today. Newtown's Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty, together with Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal, will be joined by members of the Newtown Action Alliance and Newtown Foundation to read to children. It is fitting that these leaders will be kicking off the week, as they along with Senator Chris Murphy, have been so supportive of Newtown, going well above the call of duty. In addition to speaking on behalf of the Newtown groups, I will be delivering these comments from another incredible leader, Newtown's First Selectman Patricia Llodra:
In Newtown, we believe that there is no greater gift of love than to perform acts of kindness in honor of those who lives were taken on December 14, 2012, in the Sandy Hook School shooting. We believe, too, that there is power sufficient to move the world – when so many think and act the same good thoughts and deeds. We cannot undo the awful happenings on that tragic day in Sandy Hook, nor can we turn back the clock against the many other senseless acts of violence that have hurt so many. But we can choose how we respond to those acts. In Newtown and Sandy Hook, we choose love. We invite you to join us in that choice in confidence that together we can make a better and safer world for all persons.
Joining us in New Britain will be Tyrek Marquez, a young hero who has joined the Newtown movement. Five years ago, Tyrek, then just 7, was shot in the head at the West Indian Parade in Hartford. Today, he suffers from partial paralysis on the left side of his body, and has a limp and limited use his left arm. That did not stop Tyrek and his mother from riding the bus to Washington with theNewtown Action Alliance to join forces with families of gun violence from Chardon, Aurora, Hartford, Chicago, Tucson, and Virginia Tech and to talk to lawmakers about ways to reduce gun violence. Tyrek will be on the bus again from Newtown to Washington this Wednesday as we head back to the nation's capitol, this time to perform acts of kindness and for Thursday's National Vigil for Gun Violence Victims at the Washington National Cathedral.
Other riders on the bus to Washington include Rev Henry Brown and Rev Sam Saylor from Hartford. The streets of Hartford are Rev Brown's church. Families of victims are his congregants. Last March, Rev Brown and his group, Mothers United Against Violence, held a march and rally. I was scheduled to speak immediately after Rev Saylor, whose son Shane, age 20, was gunned down last October. I welled up as I listened to this man:
I'm sick and tired of Newtown. I'm sick and tired of hearing about Newtown. Newtown this, Newtown that, I don't want to hear about that. I want you to know about Shane, the beauty of Shane. … We were with Vice President Biden a month and a half ago, and he understood our rage because we are an appendage, a footnote in this discussion around the world. We matter! Violence did not happen in Newtown; it did not start in Newtown. It happened in the streets like Hartford and Bridgeport and New Haven. And I realized something, sitting next to a father from Newtown in Danbury when Vice President Biden came. When I was sitting next to him, he was crying. He cried like I cried. His tears were wet like my tears. They were full of pain like my tears were full of pain. He had rage like I raged. If he could have his child back, he would have his child back now. You can have Newtown. They didn't ask for this. And I'll be darned if I let publicity – over-publicity – about Newtown separate me from that father and his tears. I realized that I am Newtown. We are all Newtown.
It was my turn to take the podium, and it hit me. We are all Newtown and we are all Hartford. And Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech, and Columbine. We all stand united in our quest to end the parade of pain. We all seek peace. PEACE.
This Thursday, my new friend, Sam Saylor, will be offering a prayer of remembrance at the National Vigil. My old friend Matt Crebbin will be offering words of gratitude. Victims of gun violence from all over the country will be participating in litany groups. Carole King will sing "In the Name of Love". Sitting in the cathedral will be Tyrek and Newtown teens who are part of the Jr Newtown Action Alliance, led by Sarah Clements, whose mother, a teacher at the Sandy Hook School, saved children.
Tom Sullivan and Sandy Phillips, who lost their children at the theater in Aurora, and are dedicated to making our nation safer, are coming. So is Omar Samaha, whose sister Reema was killed during French class at Virginia Tech. Omar joined Team 26 on the last leg of our bicycle ride from Sandy Hook to Washington, and is now a full-fledged member of Team 26. Team 26's jerseys bear the words and symbols placed on it by Chris McDonnell for his daughter Grace: "Peace, Hope, Love". Shundra Robinson will also be in the cathedral. Her son, Deno, was murdered three years ago sitting on a porch in Chicago. She too was in Washington with the Newtown Action Alliance in September. When she spoke, there wasn't a dry eye in the room.
The cathedral will be filled with these heroes and other family members from these communities and others including Oak Creek and a group from Oakland, California. The Newtown Foundation put together a slideshow of their loved ones and the many others lost to gun violence at www.rally.org/vigil. The photos keep coming in, and the slideshow gets longer and longer.
While we cannot bring back our 20 children and 6 educators in Newtown, or the more than 30,000 other victims of gun violence, and we certainly cannot fathom the pain of all of the families, we can honor them with action. Before the vigil, the broad coalition of Americans descending on Washington will be working in shelters and delivering Ben's Bells made the day before at a boy's school in Washington. We are asking you to perform an act of kindness in your community. These are days Newtown should be proud of. Newtown has opened its doors to the entire nation and has given a voice to those who did not have one. Newtown has shown the world that from the darkest depths, humanity can rise above, and good can prevail over evil. We are Newtown. We are all Newtown. We choose love. LOVE. Get on the "bus" and join the Newtown movement. Honor with action.