A student at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito participating in the National School Walkout, March 14, 2018. (Courtesy/Tehiyah Day School)
A student at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito participating in the National School Walkout, March 14, 2018. (Courtesy/Tehiyah Day School)

Watching my 9-year-old protest school shootings gave me hope for the future

On Jan. 8, 2011, our family was living in Tucson, Arizona — where I was born and raised, and where my parents still live. My girls were winding down their treasured weekly sleepover with Boobeh and Zeideh that morning.  The plan called for my mother to take them to the neighborhood Safeway to “say hi to Gabby” — our family friend and congresswoman who’d be greeting constituents there — then go on to my older daughter’s guitar lesson.

At 10:10 a.m., Rep. Gabby Giffords and 18 beloved members of Tucson’s community were shot at that Safeway. Six people died.

Minutes later, I got a hysterical call from a friend telling me that Gabby had been shot.

After what felt like hours of abject terror — but was more like 10 minutes — I tracked down my mother and learned that, in fact, she and my girls had been running late and had to skip the Gabby visit en route to the guitar lesson.

Those agonizing minutes grew into days and weeks and months of horror. I knew several of the victims, as do most Tucsonans. That’s Tucson.

But I did not lose my daughters or my mother that day. John and Roxanna Green weren’t so lucky. Their 9-year-old daughter, Christina, was taken from them forever.  She was one year older than my older daughter was at the time.

I cannot imagine the pain of such a loss. Most of us cannot.

In 2014, we moved to the Bay Area for work. The very first decision we made about our life here was to enroll our girls at Tehiyah Day School in El Cerrito because it felt like home. I chose my job at the Anti-Defamation League because it felt like home too.

This past week, I was rewarded with some unexpected gifts of those choices we made owing to our commitment to — and love for — the Jewish community.

On March 14, the day students across the nation walked out of their schools to make a statement about gun violence, I was fearful of having a paralyzing day peppered with terrifying memories of the carnage inflicted at the point of a gun in a Safeway parking lot in 2011.

In fact, the events of March 14 were reviving.

I used the ADL Table Talk on gun violence as a guide for my own discussions with my children. Moreover, the dedicated professional team at our sweet and soulful Tehiyah organized a walkout in solidarity with the National School Walkout.

I listened to my 9-year-old belting out protest chants about guns: “Hey hey, ho ho, guns have got to go!” I heard her screaming with her friends with such power and force that it knocked the wind out of me. They’re in the fourth grade, Christina was in third.

Our small but mighty Jewish day school community shouted, sang and wept together as passing cars honked in solidarity. We also shared the most powerful rendition of Matisyahu’s “One Day” I’ve ever experienced.

After that horrifying and surreal moment in Tucson’s history, a movement erupted. Many of the survivors and other Tucsonans — along with millions across the country — worked tirelessly to eradicate the plague of gun violence in this country. It didn’t happen, just as it hasn’t happened on so many unspeakably tragic occasions preceding and following Jan. 8, 2011.

March 14 marked one month since the horrifying mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That same day, I left my daughter’s school believing what so many have been saying: Our children are going to accomplish what their parents could not — one day.

Shaun Kozolchyk
Shaun Kozolchyk

Shaun Kozolchyk is the director of development for the Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific Region.