Two weeks ago, I attended my daughter’s graduation from the University of Houston. This week, I watched with thousands of other parents and family members as my son graduated from high school. And at both graduations, I cried. Not only with the bittersweet emotions of a proud parent, but also because of the feeling of community that coursed through the ceremonies. I watched as young people of different races, religions and economic backgrounds crossed the stage, cheered on by their loved ones.
I felt the hopes and drewhiteams of not only these students about to go out into the world and make their marks but also the hopes and dreams that their families have for them. It made me feel as if America is not on a course of destruction but a path where the youth of our country can erase the divisiveness of their elders and create a nation that reflects our common ideals.
As I wiped away mascara-stained tears of happiness, my phone dinged with a notification of a school shooting in Uvalde, Texas. My heart sank as it listed, at that time, 14 children dead along with one teacher. Within a few hours, that report would list 19 children and two adults plus the 18-year-old shooter. Instead of walking across the stage and receiving his diploma, this barely-a-man would die after murdering at least 21 human beings, destroying the lives of hundreds of friends and loved ones while shattering a community.
Not again. Enough is enough. Thoughts and prayers. These platitudes get bounced around repeatedly on news stations and social media. We have become almost inured to the violence. When a white supremacist goes on a rampage like the shooter in Buffalo, New York, we say, “something should be done.” Yet, voters continue to elect politicians who don’t make laws that the majority of Americans support. People get their “news” from television pundits who peddle the very conspiracy theories that lead to people being killed.
Here we are again as a nation, divided on what should be done. Our house is on fire and we are debating whether to throw water or gasoline on it. We blame the lack of mental health care, yet many health insurance providers in our country do not cover mental health issues. We blame lax gun laws while voting for legislators who seek to make purchasing a gun easier than buying a beer. We blame social media while spreading false information and bigotry online. Then, we shake our heads at the senselessness and go on with our day.
The families of the people lost in an elementary school in a small Texas town will not go on with their lives in the same way ever again. Robb Elementary will never again be seen as a safe haven for the small children of a tight-knit community. Instead, it will forever be the site of a massacre of innocence. Like so many other American schools.
Unless this country finally commits itself to ending gun violence, Black, Asian and Hispanic Americans will continue to live with the terrible thought that there are people that want to kill them simply because of their race. Jewish and Muslim people will still endure the hatred of their fellow citizens because of their faiths. LGBTQ Americans will still fear that a night out with friends might be their last. And every parent in this country will worry that their child will be the one not coming out of the classroom.
This uniquely American epidemic has a number of underlying causes and most people will cling to their beliefs rather than have meaningful dialogue based in facts. With close-minded stubbornness, this country will continue to fail our children rather than take pro-active measures to prevent yet another mass shooting. We will let them kill themselves in our homes with guns bought to protect. We will let them die at the hands of strangers to protect our supposed “rights”.
These young children in Uvalde, like the numerous other children who have been slaughtered in our country, had the right to a future. They will never pick a pretty dress for a quinceañera, walk across the stage for a hard-earned diploma or enjoy the independence of driving a car alone for the first time. They will never feel the sweetness of a first kiss or hear the sound of their baby’s first cry.
The joys of life have been stolen from them, forever. And we, as a nation, are the thieves.