I had my first phone call with Michele Gay while sitting at my kitchen counter. My children were being uncharacteristically quiet, due in large part to Paw Patrol and more Pirate’s Booty than necessary.
I was excited to talk to Michele, which I felt was odd. Excited didn’t seem the appropriate feeling. But there I was, discussing threat management and violence prevention with the founder of Safe and Sound Schools, and I was excited. I imagine it’s because my career spent in the field gave me the unique perspective to recognize that this very motivated, well-spoken, and knowledgeable woman might be one of the missing pieces in effecting real change where it’s needed so greatly.
Safe and Sound is a Sandy Hook initiative. Michele is Josephine’s mom. Josephine, the sweet smile under the silly hat we all saw on the news, should not have died that day in December four years ago. Her death and the circumstances that lead to it were preventable. Her mom recognizes that and has spent the years since losing her making sure others know as well.
It’s something I’ve known for a while: that violence is a process, one that is predictable and preventable. That no one ever “just snaps.” That our schools can and should be doing so much better in recognizing students in crisis and leading them on a different path. That our communities need to work together to improve the emergency action and security plans at our schools. That parents assume someone else has done the work — practiced the drill, organized with law enforcement, saw the weak spots, reported the suspicious activity. The violence we saw that day and have seen since does not need to happen, but we have to acknowledge that and we have to work hard at making it better every single day.
In our current political climate, I think it’s important to be reminded that it’s not always the politicians or the wealthy and powerful who make the biggest impacts. It’s regular people. People who loved the ones they lost so much that they simply had enough.
The reason you get an emergency alarm on your phone when a child is abducted isn’t because the government decided to do it, it’s because Amber Hagerman’s parents are trying to make sure the same thing that happened to their daughter doesn’t happen to yours. If a child is lost at a store, they often go to “Code Adam,” named after Adam Walsh. A politician didn’t make that happen, his parents did. Law enforcement is required to make information about sex offenders public and readily available to the community, because Megan Kanka’s parents made sure of it. And despite all the administrators and schools who continue to say it’s “good enough” and the parents who are in denial about the potential of violence in their child’s school, Josephine’s mom will continue to work at making all of our schools safer.
I talk a big talk about safety and the work that needs to be done in our schools, but if I’m truly honest with myself, I’m not sure that had it been my child I would even get out of bed in the morning. That others do, that they look beyond their own grief and put one foot in front of the other so that my kids are safe, is incredibly humbling. If I can play even a small part in helping them and honoring their children, that will be enough.