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When I lived in the coal fields of West Virginia, I grew up blowing bubbles, riding my bike, playing in the dirt, and catching crawdads in the creek. My grandfather and I used to go fishing. He and I would journey out into the yard in the middle of the night with a flashlight to catch nightcrawlers for bait. My biggest fear as a third grader was snakes. I was afraid I’d catch a baby snake instead of a worm. Let’s be clear, the fear of the snakes didn’t keep me from the creek bed. There was probably a stronger probability of snakes hiding under rocks to get shade from the sun than them being in the shallow places my grandfather and I searched for nightcrawlers.

Then we moved to the inner city where we remained outside until the streetlights came on. We jumped double-dutch and played games like hopscotch, freeze tag and red light/green light. While the boys tossed balls over cars for double points as part of the sport curb ball, we made up dance routines with our friends from the block. Despite living in the ‘hood in the middle of the crack epidemic, I never worried about getting shot. There was a code that even the drug dealers honored. There was a line that wasn’t crossed. The community looked out for kids. 

With the news of 19 children and 2 teachers murdered in Uvalde, Texas. I asked myself, “Is there any place safe?” Entertain myself at the movies, nope; Grab a few staples from the grocery store, nope; find peace at church or the synagogue, nope; Go dancing at a nightclub, nope; decompress and get a manicure, nope. Our kids can’t even go to school. America is experiencing a public health crisis, a social crisis, a policy crisis, and moral decline. A society that doesn’t protect its children or prioritize their well-being is evidence of our decline. This shooting was an intentional act on children, I am outraged. 

Gun violence is robbing all of us. I mourn all that could have been. Within the minds of those 19 young lives cut short, there was probably a breakthrough medical treatment or a new invention that we couldn’t live without. Our world will never know the scientists, businesspeople, architects, public servants, the greatness that was being cultivated in these children. 

Beyond the 19 murdered children, survivors will endure trauma for the rest of their lives. We will never know the full extent of what our inaction and inability to keep our kids safe has cost us. We failed the shooter, who was just a few months shy of childhood, the 19 children in Texas and all the children who attended the other 27 schools where shootings have taken place this year. Our failures are linked to our young people not having caring adults in their lives, the lack of common-sense gun policy and access to mental and behavioral health services. Firearms are the leading cause of death in children, yet our leaders scratch their heads devoid of solutions. Our leaders are more committed to protecting gun rights than the lives of our children. 

While we are experiencing a crisis, we are also without strong leaders for kids. We need leaders with the fortitude to attack these challenges head on and hold our elected officials to task. Many of the (s)heroes for children have retired or passed on. Financial support for advocacy for children is waning. The strategies and tactics of old just are not enough for the problems of present. It’s within this context that the Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative is needed all the more. We must develop the next generation of leaders who will prioritize the needs of children, consider the impact of policy on their lives, and elevate them in the public discourse. The aim of the work of the Initiative is to support students who will innovate and provide a fresh vision for our children, one that honors life and gives our children the best start possible.

Kids only have one childhood. Preserving that childhood is where we should be drawing our proverbial line in the sand. The Karabelle Pizzigati Initiative helps to cultivate warriors for childhood. Our fellows are in the vanguard of reform or policies and systems for our children. Regardless of where a child grows up, rural Appalachia, the slums of the inner city, suburbia, they should reach adulthood with memories that bring forth feelings of safety and security not actively working to heal from the trauma of adverse childhood experiences and close calls with death. Thank you for all that you are doing to help us develop the next generation who will “do good” for children, youth, and their families. 

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