Please be aware that the below content and the linked website includes mentions of violence, domestic abuse, child abuse, and suicide. This article highlights Head-Royce student involvement with the Since Parkland project.
Click the “search” function on the Since Parkland website and you’re inundated with a list of names in gold font tiled over a stark black background. Begin to scroll: the list seems endless, dreadful. The devastation you feel is no accident. This list should upset you.
The names belong to the 1,200 children between the ages of 0 and 18 who died from gun violence in the United States in the past year.
February 14 marked the anniversary of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida––a tragedy that turned many teenagers into activists. It’s also the date the independent, nonpartisan nonprofit The Trace launched Since Parkland, in conjunction with the Miami Herald, McClatchy News, and over 200 student-journalists. Eight of these journalists are Head-Royce students in the Upper School Expository Writing class.
“School shootings have been broadcast on our television screens, and we’ve taken it personally,” write the students on Since Parkland. “We’ve been trained to memorize the exit routes in our classrooms, to think of our backpacks and binders not as school supplies, but as shields, to stress over whether or not a lockdown is a drill. Every day, roughly four children and teens under 18 are shot and killed. …Gun violence is ingrained in our consciousness. It’s our normal.”
Since Parkland seeks the stories behind the statistics. In 100-word profiles, student-journalists celebrate the lives of these children, rather than sensationalize the grim circumstances of their deaths. To write authentic obituaries, they scoured news sources, social media, and at times, made delicate phone calls to families, unearthing poignant details: “She was constantly dancing and singing along to the “Frozen” soundtrack on her karaoke machine.” “He could rock a crop top like no other.” “He played football, mentored children and interned at a nursing home.” “Her Saturdays were usually filled with Doc McStuffins and playdates with her cousins.” In other words, the victims were kids.
By writing about specific “emotions, behaviors, and stories,” as Lucas D. ’20 explains, the journalists form a strong bond between victim and reader. “Many victims are the same age as me,” Lucas adds. It’s a powerful, haunting technique.
“Obituaries are a form of high-stakes journalism: they serve as an indelible public record, so accuracy and economy of language are paramount,” says US teacher Mark Schneider ‘00. “In reading over our students' contributions, I was struck by how humanizing and compelling their pieces were.”
Head-Royce Junior Nadia N. was elected to co-author the Since Parkland introduction for the Miami Herald, with four other students living across the country. Together, Nadia and the others write: “Their stories captured us, saddened us, and illuminated grave realities about the toll of gun violence among American youth. We’ve been shocked by the disproportionate homicide rates for young African-Americans in U.S. cities, troubled by the sheer number of domestic violence shootings, and devastated by tales of curious children accidentally shot by loose guns.”
Each Head-Royce journalist acknowledged that the job was weighty and hard, but important. “I wrote two obituaries about kids who hadn’t reached their seventh birthdays yet,” says Cole R. ’22. “But this is too big an issue to let emotions get in the way. Most importantly, it’s about honoring someone so easily counted as a statistic or another tally on a page.”
Nadia N. ’20 agreed about the project’s emotional intensity but took a different stance with her feelings. “Though it may seem counterintuitive, I found that it was best to let the emotions of the project overwhelm me,” says Nadia. “My sadness turned to anger which turned to motivation. ...These stories––these lives––spurred somewhat of my own internal reflection. I recognized that feeling safe is now a privilege––a commodity that few can afford.”
Grace W. ’20 echoed the sentiment: “My very first story was about a three-year-old boy killed in a drive-by shooting and I cried the entire time I wrote it… I challenged myself to channel my emotions into my writing and to use any pain and anger I was feeling to turn it into positive change.”
Head-Royce became involved with the Since Parkland project through its senior editor Beatrice Motamedi, a Bay-Area journalist who visited Andy Spear and Mark Schneider’s Expository Writing class. Beatrice guided the interested students through the especially sensitive reporting and editorial process.
“We're proud of what our students contributed,” says Andy Spear. “It's incredibly moving and a great example of citizen journalism at work. Have a look, but do so when you're ready for the weight of the content; they're each small but powerful pieces.”
Please take Andy Spear’s warning to heart when you read through the Since Parkland website and discuss it with your Head-Royce student(s) or peers.