The tragedy that struck our neighborhood Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School right here in Broward County in South Florida was experienced as a personal attack for every good American! On a day that represents love— hate and violence invaded our lives and struck the innocent lives of our beloved youth and teachers. If you live in Broward or a nearby county, it is likely that you know someone who was directly impacted. Beyond knowing a victim or survivor, this incident has hit the hearts of Americans hard! This public HS school is exceptional in the nation--the city of Parkland was voted safest city in Florida. If this can happen in Parkland, this can happen anywhere in our country. What is profoundly moving for me, a professor in Conflict Resolution Studies, is to see that instead of youth and HS students from Stoneman Douglas drowning in despair and tragedy (as they need well-deserved rest and healing), these Heroes have the strength to face this tragedy head on as remarkable change agents! Speaking at the Florida State capitol, speaking to news outlets, talking to elected officials, sending strong messages to Washington, questioning those from the National Rifle Association, and speaking on behalf of those who have passed, these youth have so very eloquently and passionately conveyed a clear message that violence must stop in this country and they want change (action) to support that conviction! They are modern day role models as change agents.
They have compelled youth from other schools and incited people of all ages around this nation to join their Movement to STAND UP and prevent violence. These student leaders have encouraged a STAND UP Movement at the local, state, and national levels with walk-outs to show solidarity on this cause with schools, organizations, universities, and communities around the country to bring action to this problem. This tragedy and the movement that follows will now become a part of our collective memory and it will be a part of our history. I wonder what it will tell us about who we are as Americans and what we do in the face of tragedy. I hope we can take example from our youth. In fact, the youth in elementary schools and middle schools in masses have joined the movement. In a poignant display of validation this week, a Palm Beach County Middle School Principal shared with parents and her staff that schools need to follow and support their students because students through social media outlets will organize their own protest and walk out to show solidarity for this cause with or without the permission of their teachers or staff as her students did. The Principal made a wise and prompt decision to support her middle school students and gave students the platform and time to stop the day, so these youth had an opportunity to assemble all together to listen to speeches and messages that the students so desperately wanted to share with each other and the outside world about their intolerance for violence, need for protection, and demand to stop school shootings all while honoring the 17 victims (Alyssa Alhadeff, Scott Beigel, Martin Duque Anguiano, Nicholas Dworet, Aaron Feis, Jamie Guttenberg, Chris Hixon, Luke Hoyer, Cara Loughran, Gina Montalto, Joaquin Oliver, Alaina Petty, Meadow Pollack, Helena Ramsay, Alexander Schachter, Carmen Schentrup, Peter Wang) who were killed and all the survivors at Majory Stoneman Douglas. The children wanted to be heard and the administrators and teachers made it happen. My daughter was present, and she prepared a clear message that she also has posted on her social media that I feel necessary to share with you as it expressed the tone of the walk out:
“People have to listen, and something has to be done! Stoneman Douglas should have never happened…I was so astonished to find out what happened to this school, to my friends I know personally, and these innocent children. For the 17 beautiful souls that passed away, you may be gone physically, but I know you are in heaven and you will never be forgotten…. we won’t let anyone forget you. It kills me to think about the parents who didn’t kiss their children goodbye that day or say I love you for the last time!...This has to remind us to take action, so we don’t have another school shooting ever again. I am praying for everyone who had to experience these horrific acts of pure evil and I expect a better future!”
Let me please remind you that these are our youth who are 10 to 13 years of age— middle schoolers who are following the lead of their HS youth counterparts who are demanding a better future! Isn’t our country based on life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? It is not acceptable when our children, parents, and teachers are terrified about the violence in and around our schools today. I hope that each one of you can personally or professionally help and support our youth in these days, weeks, months, and years to support them in any way we can to join this movement to STAND UP against violence because an act of violence on any American is an act of violence on us all! On March 24th, a march took place in Washington and youth are asking us to support them with walk outs in our local communities to demonstrate our solidarity with this movement and call for action. Please join or organize one where you live. I have learned to never underestimate our youth and in these hard times, they have been role models and leaders in this movement toward standing up against violence! If you are a parent, teacher, administrator, please listen to the youth in your community and assist them in their movement. They need us adults and us adults need them. Our public spaces can’t be war zones and our public spaces like schools can’t be soft targets. Our precious youth deserve more than this in the US in the 21st century!
It is certainly not a time for our country to become divided because our politicians aren’t willing to talk or work with each other. Or people take polarized views on controversial topics such as gun control. It is disheartening to hear our politicians time and time again, say they are not doing a good job at collaborating when it appears our millennials youth are being more progressive, productive, and mature at having candid conversations, recognizing problems, and demanding actions. I see the need for mediators to help in these discussions and debates as we have the tools to get people to have difficult conversations and necessary action plans. We need to discuss the undiscussables, have open dialogues, have heated debates about breaches in security, mental health, suicide, safety protocols, guns, weapons, accountability as well as constitutional rights—but more than anything we need united actions that will emerge from our discussions to tackle violence in this country to prevent attacks on our youth and public spaces. Our law enforcement need to ask hard questions and generate new solutions to how we address violence in the new age. Law enforcement and military experts will argue time and time again that pistols can’t win over automatic weapons, yet it strikes me that when we see many law enforcement officers in our communities most are not carrying automatic weapons and in fact officers must get special training to use these types of weapons. Law enforcement officers are struggling to tackle violence in military style battle fields that appear to be more frequently occurring today. It will take a collaborative effort to review how fighting violence has changed dramatically in nature and revisit what can be done to prevent it.
Law enforcement around the country have made it very clear, that law enforcement officers in this aftermath are present at local schools with automatic guns not pistols and SWAT trained officers are being asked to protect our schools and students. I come from a military family, my Grandfather fought for the US in WWII for three years, and now my friends, we are sadly facing a war on our homefront and we must fight for the US again, but against the violence against our schools and public spaces. People around the world are reaching out to us and sending their condolences and asking if we are fine once again….my direct answer as a conflict management and conflict resolution professional and professor is— We are not fine with the status quo and we have to do more to tackle this violence! This is not a partisan issue that is about Republicans or Democrats, this is a human issue, an American issue, your issue, and it will take various and multipronged solutions to tackle it! It will take YOU in one capacity or another to help tackle it! Americans are strong and resilient, and it is a time that our country needs to stand committed and united to address violence.
Think what else you can do and do something because being a bystander won’t promote change. This is very painful to watch time and time again. Perhaps actions to promote safer schools and public environments will strengthen you like many of the youth have experienced. There are safe zones in this country like court houses, government buildings, military bases, even gated communities, so draw from what works and see if you can implement a change in your community to promote safety and security everywhere. In talking about this issue with SWAT and other law enforcement professionals, there appears to be some agreement emerging in how to improve security at schools and even other organizations such as: 1) security gates with entrances restricted to those who have authorization to enter schools, 2) armed SWAT security and law enforcement presence outside and inside schools, 3) metal detectors at entrances, and 4) security enforcements around the perimeter of schools. Let us not only focus on safety in our schools, but around our schools as well. Several Washington DC teachers and parents spoke to the President and described their local schools to be very safe, but the reverse was true of their surrounding urban streets and communities as gun violence and homicide become much more prevalent once youth leave the safe haven of their schools that are equipped with metal detectors and security guards. From our urban areas to the small quite towns like Parkland, FL and Newtown, CT, we have a problem in our country and it won’t go away with silence, denial, or inaction. It is clear that peace builders, mediators, therapists, conflict professionals as well as other professionals from multiple disciplines need to be part of the discussion, debates as well as action plans that must follow. Please find a place to apply your talents as our children, community, and country needs you.
You may join thousands to petition for viable solutions at https://www.change.org/
and if you wish you can begin a new petition. Join your community to work with your elected officials so they can hear your solutions and use your constitutional right to vote for solutions and resources that you think are worth it. President Trump spoke to students from Stoneman Douglas HS and conveyed he wants to hear solutions, so get involved at your local and state level to share solutions that you think might be effective and viable. Stand Up if you believe there are terrible ideas that are being considered such as equipping teachers with guns. Be a part of your child’s PTA if you have children or a member in your organization to discuss prevention and safety precautions ahead of time. Be preemptive not silent. Be a mentor in a peace education workshop at your local schools, design a peace education workshop or let us help you implement one that we have designed to teach peace to youth at a young age. I have designed a PEACE EDUCATION program that has partnered mentors with youth at the Boys and Girls Club and youth are not young enough to begin learning about peace, being peace ambassadors, peer mediators, upstanders, and peace ambassadors. The HS youth have taught us the strength of voice, conviction, and action. Are you doing enough in your communities and local schools? People are strong when their communities are strong. Communities can prevent violence.
I am inspired to hear that our local universities like College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science at Nova Southeastern University have stepped up to assist and support with free counseling and therapy support and I want to thank our leadership, professors, and alumni professionals for the early interventions! This work in our local communities is invaluable and we need helping professionals in all capacities to join efforts not only in reactive crisis responses, but in prevention of youth violence in this country! Mental health and mental health support will be very important ongoing topics that we should continue to address in the aftermath of yet another mass school shooting. Also addressing bullying, student alienation, suicide prevention and intervention and building relationships in our country seems vital at this time. We have a talented team in this country and as reflected on Mediate.com and we have wonderful partners in the community who can help support change.
I am honored to work with the Broward Crime Commission under the direction of Director Jim DePelisi who is tackling this topic through an active shooting prevention and crisis program in partnership with experts like mental health professionals of all types, FBI, SWAT, peacebuilders, mediators, and law enforcement. works closely with the community, professionals in the community, and law enforcement to address crime prevention and intervention. In other states, the Crime Commission exists too, so I encourage you to seek them out if you live in another state outside of Florida and invite an opportunity to tackle this topic. As a mediator, I am part of the panel discussion and I urge other mediators in this country to get involved in the Crime Commission in your own states. The Florida Governor has recently proposed his action plan that includes active shooting training and mental health programs, so funding for security and mental health resources appear to be a priority. Follow this link for his proposals.
There are excellent mental health and security recommendations that have been up for discussion for years since the last school shooting that every school and every organizations should consider: 1) a Threat Assessment Team in every school that includes mental health professionals working alongside law enforcement and staff at our schools to assess threat and threatening people before it is too late, 2) documenting a safety plan that helps everyone recognize what to do in crisis situations, and 3) mental health interventions to detect threats and vulnerable or harmful people in advance, 4) developing peer mediation programs to assist in conflict management and resolution in early stages.
Self-care is important, and we deal with crisis and tragedy differently, so if you need assistance don’t hesitate: The Disaster Distress Helpline is a toll-free, multilingual crisis support service available 24/7 via telephone (1-800-985-5990) and SMS (text ‘TalkWithUs’ to 66746). The Disaster Distress Helpline is a federally funded resource provided by SAMHSA. And many of you are parents so the stress may be how you discuss these difficult conversations with your children, so it may be helpful to get advice or visit these helpful links:
I encourage you to think about how you can personally reflect your own communities in terms of youth violence prevention and training/preparedness. Think about what more can be done to prevent active shooting situations and save lives in terms of a multipronged response that calls even mediators to do invaluable work. I encourage each one of you to tackle this topic in one way or another as this tragedy demands that we need to do more especially as professionals in the conflict management and resolution fields. Building a culture of peace requires mediators to emerge as peace builders. Promoting a mediator persona, seems like an invaluable skillset to teach every youth for starters!