By Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides President and CEO
Students at Hillsides Education Center (HEC) commemorated the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida shooting in solidarity with students from across the country with a memorial that recalled those who perished that day. As the students approached the gathering place for the memorial they became quiet and assembled in a circle to read the names of those who died and to share some information about each one. Naming the attributes of each victim made it poignantly clear how much alike they were to our own students.
The memorial at HEC was different from many that had been televised with individuals expressing position statements. Rather, this sobering event reminded each of us that violence is all too common in our lives. Gun-related violence is a symptom of a culture that has grown numb to the ever-present risks to our well-being that we experience daily. For many of the students at HEC, who themselves have been bullied and marginalized at times, the shooting in Parkland surfaces many emotions.
Lupe Gonzalez, the HEC director, had a simple message for our students: You are safe here, and together we will support one another through whatever challenges come our way. She can make such a promise not because metal detectors have been installed or armed personnel employed, but for the reason that all of us at Hillsides are committed to the safety and well-being of students and staff. Violence is mitigated by understanding and reaching out to those most vulnerable. Violence is thwarted when threats are addressed with a conviction that hope is possible. Violence is eliminated when resolve to change for the better is the driving force for action.
Much needs to be done to assure our children that they will be safe. The sobering looks on the students’ faces at HEC certainly help me to remain dedicated to addressing the ubiquitous violence that characterizes our society. Each of us has a role to play to create a safe environment for our children. The nature of the dilemma is overwhelming and so it is easy to avoid the issue, leave it to others, or abandon any hope that the situation can change. Accepting what some are calling a new normal is to somehow acquiesce to unspeakable harm to our children and many others who are vulnerable. This, of course, is not acceptable. This is a time for action, inspired by our youth and dedicated to their well-being. We must act to make them safe.