Saturday, March 3, 2018

An Open Letter to BAT Members And Allies On Gun Violence by Melissa Tomlinson

Dear BAT members and allies

What happened on February 14th pierced an arrow right through our hearts, and not in the Cupid sense. We reacted with shock.

But should we really have been shocked? Since Sandy Hook we have been living with our monthly security drills, lockdowns, active shooter scenarios, etc. All done with the intention of preparing us for an emergency. But all done with the consequence of normalizing the fact that we all risk the chance of being a victim of gun violence in our schools. All done with the unintentional release of the responsibility of our lawmakers and leaders for not enacting sensible gun legislation.
Columbine. I have a personal story to share about Columbine, as I'm sure many do.

The events that occurred in Columbine happened less than a month after I had given birth to my second son. I was sitting home with him waiting for the hospital social worker to come by for our home visit. I had no insurance at the time, so I had gone through the local hospital clinic for my pregnancy and delivery.

I turned on the TV while I was waiting. I was immediately struck down by what I saw.

Imagine a new mother cuddling with her newborn seeing a vision of what that child might have to face. My older child was next to me, playing with his toys. Although he was only two, he was closer to the age at which he would start school.

The social worker knocked on the door and I let her in. Getting comfortable, she proceeded to ask me a bunch of questions, none of which I remember, even later that evening.

I was focused on nothing other than the events that were unravelling on the TV. I was focused on nothing other than the fact that I had two children that I needed to keep safe.

It was actually that moment in time that I decided to start thinking about becoming a teacher. I wanted to keep my children safe. I wanted to keep all of the children in my community safe.

I was lucky that, in the early years of my career I was first able to work in a preschool and have my children attend. Then, as they became old enough for public school, I secured a position as a paraprofessional in our home district.

I realized that other educators were just as dedicated as I was to keeping children safe from harm. I felt secure enough in that fact to obtain my teaching certification and move into special education in another district.

But what I had not thought about as much was the threat of safety outside of school, in our community.

We live in a predominately white, suburban community.

I did not have to live with the thought that any day that my children walked out the door, they might become a victim of gun violence. I was (and am) privileged.

As we work to grow our understanding of racial disparities and talk about addressing gun violence we need to do this with thought and intention. As we look for ways to do better in this fight against gun violence (let’s face it ~ this is not the first time we have been having these conversations) we need to elevate those that are most affected.

The conversation cannot be only about mass shootings in schools! 

About a month ago, a BAT state admin started a conversation about BATs addressing gun violence. Having seen the growing number of incidents of gun violence in or around schools, especially in urban areas, I had a thought “YES, this MUST be addressed NOW.” Our work began.

We will soon be releasing the beginnings of that work as a toolkit with resources and our list of demands. A list, because this is not merely about demanding more sensible gun legislation. This is about demanding that our leaders uphold the responsibility of safety and well-being of youth; that cannot be done without first providing equity for our youth of color, for our youth that rise from oppressed backgrounds, for our youth that are not as privileged as my sons.

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