Sarah Clements from Newtown, Connecticut is a 17-year-old activist, daughter, friend, student. But she’s more than just ordinary girl-she has become an inspiration for hundreds and maybe thousands of youth. Educating and speaking out on gun violence. And providing hope that the community of Newtown can move forward after violence.
Sarah didn’t dream of becoming of activist until it became a reality for her on December 14th, 2012. The day Sandy Hook Elementary School was devastated by gun violence. The second deadliest mass shooting by a single person in American history
And this past weekend was the Southeast Peace Jam slam conference. Hundreds of youth, leaders and teachers came together to unite for peace and social change. They talked about the tough issues. From war and poverty to women and children’s rights, rape and gun violence. But for one entire day I was surrounded around a group of ambitious youth ready to tackle the social issues many faced on a daily basis. Their positive words and spirit filled the room. And I came to the realization that the people who are capable of finding solutions for social justice problems are in fact our youth.
During Sarah’s keynote speech she made a statement that impacted me as storyteller for survivors of violence. As she was struggling to release her voice about a year ago she didn’t understand what difference it would make. But then someone told her this,
And this resonated with me greatly. Because Sarah has not only become an inspiration for me, but for what I am sure is thousands of youth. Each one of our stories is unique and raw. As we share them we become united with humanity and understand we are not alone.
Sarah’s story started with a simple word document. She opened up her computer and just started typing. Slowly releasing her angry and frustration into active words that could be used to create change in her grieving community of Newtown. Sarah reflects on the day she opened up that word document. She remembers the overwhelmed feeling of releasing her voice as she typed. But she points out that a tragic event does not have to define a person or a community. It’s only part of the story and you can choose to see your story differently after violence.
And Sarah chose to keep writing to become part of the change. She never thought gun violence would be part of her story. But she still remembers the day the shots were fired in her community. And now her mother who is a teacher has to go teach a class of 15 students, instead of 20 students. And Sarah understood her mother’s pain along with other countless teachers, students and community members. She had to do something to translate pain into positive action. She wanted to break sterotypes of those affected by gun violence and bring people together. And most importantly she wanted to show the strength people have to move forward.
From the children of Sandy Hook Elementary to the inner city schools Sarah believes that youth are the catalyst for social change. By coming together and understanding the emotional and physical pain they all experience, healing can occur. And they all have an opportunity to make peace within themselves and move forward in their community.
Sarah joined Newton Gun Alliance and started sharing her story. The importance of our stories is it can provide hope. It allows us to develop kind hearts and clear minds. But beyond sharing our stories, we must become advocates for justice. And Sarah emphasized that young people should not be afraid of politics and politicians. Because youth have a huge voice as future voters and one day the youth will run our country. All of our voices count.
And then Sarah mentioned an important party to her story and to many activists. Dealing with push back and negativity. You’re going to have critics and you’re going to have people challenge you. It doesn’t mean you are wrong. What it means is you need to focus on building strength and optimism as you continue to speak out.And you need to surround people around you that will push you forward. When you become passionate about an issue you become unafraid. You are ready to fight with words and peaceful actions. But some people are going to be afraid of change. And you need to use their negativity to motivate you-because your voice can change the world.
And we must all remember that to create sustainable change is not a sprint, but a marathon we all need to run together. And allow bravery to become your biggest activist tool. For everyone is filled with the potential to create positive change. We must allow our conversation to turn into actions.
And maybe most importantly Sarah proved we must not be afraid to share our own story. Sarah’s is only one affected by gun violence and now she shares it around the country. She is providing hope that violence does not have to exist. We can all be part of the movement to provide solutions and hope. And it starts with the youth raising their voices.