by Martin Ping, Executive Director, Hawthorne Valley Association

This past Tuesday, as I was shutting down my computer to dash off to an evening event, an email from the New York Times appeared on my screen just before it turned off. BREAKING NEWS: 14 CHILDREN KILLED IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL SHOOTING IN TEXAS, GOVERNOR SAYS. Later that number would be revised to 19 children and two teachers. However, these are not just abstract statistics to be added to the growing number of victims of mass killings and gun violence in this country. These are human beings, all too often children, who deserved the right to be safe in their schools, and to grow into adulthood.

My instinctive response was to scream expletives at my computer. I admit that part of my anger was directed at my own feeling of powerlessness when the safety and wellbeing of our children is on the line. The majority of my outrage is reserved for the cruel hypocrisy and inaction of the elected officials at every level of government who have the power to do something beyond offering vacuous platitudes. Where is the leadership?

The event I attended that evening was a salon with members of the not-for-profit organization Girl Rising hosted by Hawthorne Valley parent and HVA Trustee Kim Bucci and her gracious staff at Rivertown Lodge. Girl Rising Co-founder and Executive Director Christina Lowery spoke eloquently about the mission of the organization before turning it over to a panel of three Girl Rising Fellows. Dr. Winnie Kiiru, founder of Conservation Kenya, spoke of the importance of girls getting an education. She said she was not talking about getting a PhD, but simply making it through eighth grade. Eighteen–year-old Julieta Martinez from Chile is founder of Tremendas platform, supporting young people around the world working at the intersection of environmental protection and girls’ education. Twenty-year-old Lauren Ritchie just graduated from Columbia and founded the Eco Justice Project. Lauren’s experience growing up in the Bahamas made evident to her the disproportionate impact of climate chaos on marginalized communities.

When the Q&A was winding down, and there was time for one last question, I felt compelled to speak.  “Dr. Winnie, you cited in your remarks the importance of an eighth grade education. There are nineteen more children in this country who will not make it to eighth grade as a result of senseless violence and a shameful failure of leadership. I want to thank Girl Rising, and the three of you, for growing the kind of leadership that is desperately needed in our world today.”

In a conversation with Dr. Winnie afterwards, she commented that any one of those children in Texas could have become a leader that the future needs. She asked, “Do we have any idea of all that went into making each of those lives possible?” I knew I was standing in the presence of wisdom hewn out of experience, and I felt the immense mystery of each individual incarnation in the interconnected web of life. The events in Texas, and Buffalo, and too many other places tear at the sacred strands of this web.

My heartfelt gratitude extends to our teachers, support staff, and all of our parents, who are committed to providing a safe and nourishing environment in which our children can thrive. May the love and dedication that you embody bring healing to a broken world and create the conditions in which our children can become who they came into this world to be.