I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I hopped on a train to Washington DC the morning of March 24th, 2018. I just knew this march was going to be big and I felt called to be part of it. I also knew the part I played would be centered in the purpose of using photography to document this day. The minute my feet hit the ground of our great nation's capital, I felt an energy that was as powerful as it was palpable. A physical shift. This was not a march. It was a movement. It was a movement that was awake and alive. It was a movement that was breathing and bold. I am beyond grateful to have had the chance to capture even a small part of this day and our great democracy in action.
What I realized during and in the few days following the March For Our Lives was that even my greatest expectations could never have prepared me for the emotional experience of being in this city -on this day - with these kids. These tens of thousands of beautiful kids from every corner of the USA who are being raised in a country where shootings are not shocking. Children who are waking up each day and facing a fact that gun violence could very well happen inside their own school . Or in their community church. Or on their college campus. Or in their neighborhood movie theater. Or in a local night club. Or at a music festival. Or on their block. Or in their home. Anywhere. Anytime. This is not their new-normal. It's the only normal they've ever known. These are children who have at one point been filled with a legitimate fear that they would be the next victims of a mass shooting. Or maybe their classmates. Or their favorite teacher. Or their best friend. Or maybe it would be their little brother or sister. Or their grandparents. Or their aunt or uncle. Or maybe their parents would be next. These are fears no child should face. Especially not a child in America. But now these courageous children are fighting for themselves and for the ones they love. They are fed-up with living in fear and filled with frustration. Frustration that the ones who can take action to help protect them aren't doing a thing.
These are all fears and frustrations I know nothing about from a first-hand perspective. They are worries and concerns that I had the privilege of NEVER having to ponder when I was growing up. I graduated high school in 1998. A happy and healthy member of a micro-genertion who had a hope and excitement about our future. A lucky group of kids who grew up without the wonderment of the world wide web or the suffocating standards of social media. I was part of a graduating class that was full of possibility and I believed part of our mission was to mold the future and create a better world for generations to come. Life wasn't perfect 20 years ago, but for a teenager, I have to believe it was easier and a lot less scary. Then...Columbine. In April of 1999 I was a freshman in college. The security camera videos and aerial footage of that school shooting still haunt me and so many others. Maybe this massacre is engrained in my memory a bit more because it was the first school shooting and it was the first time I ever thought, "that could have been me."
Guns in general were never scary or uncommon in my life. In fact growing up in rural Virginia and West Virginia guns were and are commonplace as is being a member of the NRA. We had school holidays during hunting seasons. My mamma is one of the sharpest shots I know especially considering she doesn't handle guns very often. I desperately wanted a BB gun for Christmas when I was nine and I learned how to shoot a real rifle in my Paw Paw's backyard around that same age. What was not common in my world was gun violence. Those images, for me, were mostly seen in movies, on cop shows or in news coverage that mostly centered on "inner-city" drug or gang related stories about shootings. Imagery of gun violence was also prevalent in a lot the music I listened to growing up a 90's kid (NWA, BIGGIE, TuPac) but again none of this was really close to home for a country girl growing up in the South. But then...Columbine. The country hears about a couple of white boys in the Colorado suburbs shooting up their school and murdering their classmates in cold blood and we are stunned. Shook. In my opinion, Columbine made gun violence an issue for the masses in a way nothing had before. It was horrific and terrifying... and surely it was singular. Surely, we believed, it could not happen again. We were so tragically wrong. According to the Washington Post, "Beginning with Columbine in 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus during school hours."
Up until that tragic moment in 1999, myself (and millions of American kids before me) had the privilege of attending Kindergarten without having to learn the words "lockdown drill" much less put them into practice. I made it through Elementary School without ever being familiar with the term "active shooter" or having to memorize an exit plan from my school library. I completed Middle School without having to lie on the floor and stare at the underside of my desk wondering if it was thick enough stop a bullet. I was blessed to graduate high school without the horrific thought of mourning the death of 17 classmates. I went on to start college without being forced to cope with the PTSD of watching my friend die in front of my eyes from gunshot wounds. I was able to begin life as a young adult without experiencing the pain of the physical therapy and healing my body had to endure from being shot at what I had hoped would be a normal day at school. What a privileged life I have led.
Quite possibly because we've never known, first hand, how it feels to grow up in a country where these things are more commonplace than coincidental myself, my generation and many of those before us have removed ourselves from this fight against gun violence. We've become closed minded to common sense gun legislation and even angry at these children for speaking out about their concerns and putting their own constitutional rights into practice. But on this day in DC, at this march in cities all across our country, that fight could no longer be ignored. This was a fight you could feel in your bones. It was a fight and fire I could see in every child's eyes. It was a fight for their lives.
On this day these once fear-filled children were standing tall and strong now full of power and purpose. Not once did I hear a joke. I never saw a casual giggle between friends. There was no horseplay or shenanigans. The peanut gallery was not invited to participate this march. This was a movement created by kids who are desperate for change. They are desperate to never see another child die at the hand of an armed killer. They are desperate for the chance to live out their own version of the American dream. They are desperate to live long enough to put their inalienable right to pursue happiness into action. They are desperate for the luxury of life. I was given that luxury without ever having to fight for it, and now I will fight for them.
No matter where you stand on the "gun control" debate there is something you can do in your community, and the communities around you right now to support and connect with these children. To show them love and help lead them with an example of strength and kindness. We each need to find our unique purpose and become ACTIVE participants. Mentor. Coach. Volunteer. Vote. Support your local teachers. Advocate for better mental health care. Step out in prayer, faith AND action. Educate yourself and meet with your local and state leaders about gun reform. Let's stop having Facebook arguments and start having face to face conversations.
I believe I have personally failed this generation and now I must find a way to be better and do better for them. There is not one simple answer and not one person can be the solution. But now WE are the grown-ups and WE can no longer ignore the fact that there is a problem. These children are crying out, standing up, shouting and begging us to acknowledge the brokenness of the system and the culture we've created. WE have to attempt to help them glue some of those broken pieces back together. The least we can do is...whatever we can to make sure not one more child will grow up asking the question "Am I Next?"