Mass shootings, and school shootings in particular, have become part of 21st century American culture. In the 90s they started to become more frequent, and when Columbine happened 19 years ago there was a sort of haunting pause in America, as we all knew that something was different. Yet we did nothing. Then in 2012, the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary shook us to our core as 1st graders were gunned down. Enough was enough. Except that it wasn’t. We still did nothing (keep in mind that 14 Democrats in the Senate voted down the Assault weapons ban known as the Sandy Hook Bill). We still did nothing. I don’t need to name all the shootings since then, which led us to Parkland. There we sat a little over a month ago, watching another awful school shooting with students watching their peers be gunned down en masse right before their eyes with images reminiscent of Columbine.
Those poor kids, I thought. Not just the ones who died, but all of them. They will never be the same. What I didn’t realize is just how much we would never be the same. The student body of Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School immediately rose from their ashes to say “enough is enough” and “never again”. They organized, they gathered, they preached. They did everything we teach our children to do: That is, they believed they could change the world, and they rose up to do so.
This was not some cute little viral video where we condescendingly pat a young person on the back for getting active- no these students, amid unimaginable anguish and grief, stood up and shook our foundations. Delaney Tarr captured my imagination when she stood before the Florida legislature and said, “we are not here to be patted on the back… we are coming after you…”
And they are. The level of organization and articulation coming out of the MSD High School student body has shaken the foundation of many politicians, and change is happening. They’re doing it.
Their movement has done something no politician or movement has been able to do in at least 20 years. They have affected actual change. We still have a long way to go before actual, meaningful, federally mandated legislation happens, but let’s just all let it in that these students have changed the minds and policies of CEOs of massive corporations (such as DICKS Sporting Goods).
All of this is to say that we need to stop calling our young people “the future”. They are not our future. They are our right here, right now, and we need to stop “patting them on the back” with one hand while putting them in their place with the other. Over and over again we hear how immature and self-absorbed this generation of young people is, but might that be because that’s how we see adn treat them? We want them to grow up… until they do. We want them to dream big… until they do. We want them to lead… until they do.
Yes, they need some wisdom, guidance, and mentorship, but they need it in such a way that empowers them rather than marginalizes them. Being a source of wisdom, guidance, and mentorship does not mean putting someone on the bench. It means getting out there with them. Our young people have a kind of vision and passion for the world that we need, and we need to find ways to empower them to get out there with it, let them make mistakes, and watch as they pick themselves up and keep going. We need to start listening to them, really listening to them, not coming back at them with cheap rhetoric like “shut up- y’all were eating Tide pods last week”.
Or the even more hateful, from GOP Candidate Leslie Gibson: “There is nothing about this skinhead lesbian that impresses me…” (referring to Emma Gonzales). He has since done a 180 on those comments, but the fact that they went out at all exposes something about us: When it comes to our young people we love to pay them lip service, and we do so by continuing to call them “our future”. We like that. Let’s keep them in the future. Becuase, by God, if they are our right now, they might actually change something. So, let’s pat them on the back, and keep them in the future.
I do not believe that children are our future. They are indeed our right now, right here, in the present. After all, for those of us who ascribe to the Christianity, let’s remember that it was a 13-year-old old young woman whom God favored enough to be the vessel of the Savior of the world. A teenager.
This Saturday they will march across the nation for their lives. Beloved, let’s see them. Let’s hear them. And, most of all, no matter what any young person’s opinion is, let us not dismiss them with condescending pats on the back. Let’s empower them even when- perhaps especially when- we feel it disempowering us.
To the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Student Body and young people everywhere, don’t give up. Don’t let us keep you down. Do not grow weary in doing good.