© USA/2018/Carly Kabot
High school students during a school walkout that aimed to raise awareness about violence against children in schools.
100 unopened texts. I turned to my friend who was reading the conversation, and that’s when I realized something wasn’t right. I slammed my laptop shut and asked what was going on while simultaneously reading through the missed messages. There were texts asking us to send Jaime Guttenberg’s number to anyone we knew in the Parkland, Florida area. Though none of us knew Jaime directly, her father was a friend of my best friend’s family. New York and Florida seem like two different worlds, but in that moment they could have been separated by a mere mile. Nearly every one of my friends knew someone who lived in Parkland, and during that hour many wondered if those they knew had made it out safely. The alternative was too difficult to consider.
It wouldn’t be until I got home and turned on the news that I would realize what was going on. I was frozen, alone in my house, hundreds of miles away from a shooting that felt as if it happened next door. I stared in horror, but not in shock. And that realization, the fact that it was not shocking, was what sent tears streaming down my face. Mass shootings should never be normal, and the death of a child should never be politics. Yet this is the world we live in, and as I cried softly to an empty house I prayed that the world where I will raise children will be different. I awoke the next morning to a photo someone had posted on Instagram. It was of Jaime Guttenberg, the girl whose number we found the day before, and I began to cry again. She was one of the 17 victims who will never be forgotten, and I cried because it could have been any of us, at any school, in the United States and beyond.
“Students are students and children are children, and a failure to protect them is a failure to protect the future of our world.”
Whether by war or by guns, the death of a child is a loss not only for the ones who love them, but a loss for the entire world. One preventable death is a death too many; seventeen preventable deaths is beyond comprehension. Over a thousand American children die every year due to guns; this fact leaves me with no words, just a feeling of vulnerability, emptiness, and fear. When we are young we are taught to view the land we live in as a shining beacon of liberty of opportunity, a golden land of freedom and justice, but as I’ve grown up I’ve realized, no country on earth is perfect.
A nation is not truly free until all of its inhabitants can live free from fear, and such freedom will not come until citizens value lives over liberties established in the Eighteenth Century. I have learned there is no such thing as freedom without giving something up, and that doing so threatens an idealized image of what freedom means. There are students across the globe who are barred from receiving an education, by wealth, gender, geography, or conflict. No student should be barred by fear.
Violence is violence, no matter the form. Violence exists within every country, every community, and even inside ourselves. We must deal with the violence that strangles our society, and we must deal with it now. I do not believe that adults will make the change our world needs, but it’s us, the generation of tomorrow. Youth have a reputation of being narcissistic and unaware, but that could not be farther from the truth. We have the opportunity to redefine the teenage stereotype. And we share a common desire to change the pictures that we see day after day. I believe we can change it, and we will. I can no longer sit in silence while my safety and the safety of millions of students is put in jeopardy. This extends beyond mass shootings or guns, and beyond America. It is about ensuring that school is a haven, not a target for terrorists, for war, for shooters. We have had enough: enough death, enough war, enough inequality, enough poverty and enough injustice. We may not have made the mess, but we will clean it up. We will pick up the shattered pieces of our communities and repair them in such a way that they will never again fall to the hands of those who wish to destroy our humanity, our strength, and our resilience.
Carly Kabot is a Voices of Youth blogger for UNICEF and a strong advocate for human rights.