I am from Oxford, Michigan. A month ago, Oxford was a town no one had ever heard of. When I first arrived at Hope College and people asked where I was from, I’d make a map out of my hand and point. “It’s about an hour north of Detroit,” I’d say.
It’s my hometown. I grew up playing in its cul-de-sacs, biking to the local ice cream shop, listening to the weekly Thursday night concerts in the park. It’s my alma mater, where I attended school from second grade onward.
It’s an all-American town. A Friday night lights, run into your neighbor at the grocery store kind of town. It’s a town whose claim to fame was once being the gravel capital of the world. It’s a town that holds a parade in honor of being home to the voice of the Lone Ranger. It’s a town where everybody knows everybody. It’s a town with a big heart.
And now, it is a town in the company of Parkland, Sandy Hook and Columbine. On Tuesday, November 30 a shooter opened fire in Oxford High School. Four students were killed. Seven other people were injured. And a community was shattered.
I cannot describe the horror of getting a text saying that there is an active shooter in the high school your siblings attend, the high school you graduated from seven months ago.
I cannot fathom the terror of the students inside the building, wondering if they would make it out.
The trees in my hometown are wrapped in yellow and blue ribbon. The sign for my high school is covered in flowers and teddy bears. There are posters in every front yard declaring we are “Oxford Strong.” Thousands of people hold candles in the winter wind as distant bells toll for four minutes. One. Two. Three. Four. How many more?
This is a town in mourning. This is a town with 1,800 traumatized high schoolers. This is a town of kids who have been forced to grow up too soon, who have seen more than anyone should ever have to see. This is a town with four families that will have empty places at the dinner table. Families that have Christmas presents that will never be opened.
It’s easy to read the headlines and feel sorry for a moment and then move on. We cannot move on. These kids are not just statistics. These kids are people; they had hopes and dreams. They had favorite movies and least favorite foods. They had friends. They had families.
And as the media begins to turn its attention away from Oxford, I have one request: don’t forget about us.
Don’t forget about the students who are recovering mentally, emotionally, and physically.
Don’t forget about the parents and siblings who weren’t able to say goodbye.
Don’t forget about the students who were lost.
Don’t forget Hana.
Don’t forget Madisyn.
Don’t forget Justin.
Don’t forget Tate.
Keep Oxford in your hearts, your minds, your prayers. Because when CNN and Fox and “The New York Times” move on to new stories, we’ll still be here. There will still be grief and anger and disbelief and heartache. There will still be four fewer kids who should never have been afraid to be at school.
I’m reminded of a poem, “The End and the Beginning” by Wislawa Szymborska:
“Photogenic it’s not
and takes years.
All the cameras have left
for another war.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Hold onto your shock. Use it. Channel it. Remember it. Remember us. Remember Hana and Madisyn and Justin and Tate. Because we need more than thoughts and prayers; we need your voices. And I don’t want to make it political, not when so many are grieving. But it is inherently political.
Tragedies like this are preventable. Children should not have to go to school afraid. Children should not have to keep dying before something is done. Children should not have to send “i love u” texts from barricaded classrooms. This is a violation of the most basic of American rights: the right to life. The right to be alive. The right to grow old. The right to a future.
In 2021 alone, there were 149 instances of gunfire on school grounds in the United States. 32 people died. 94 people were injured. We see in other nations that this does not have to happen. The United States is an anomaly in terms of gun violence; we have examples of what works, what saves lives and yet nothing is done.
What happened to the promises after Columbine? What happened to the vows after Sandy Hook? What will happen after Oxford?
We cannot let this moment go by without doing something. To do so would fly in the face of everything that we stand for as Christians. To do so would dishonor the memory of the victims. To do so would make us complicit in allowing the encroachment on our most fundamental right—life.
I cannot describe the sick feeling you get in your stomach as you wait for word that your siblings are safe. I cannot describe the agony you get every time a name is released. I cannot describe the surrealism of having your mind in two places at once: at home, where the world is upside down and at Hope, where things are normal. I cannot describe what it is like to hear your brother say he can’t stop hearing the gunshots. I can only hope that you never will know the stain of gun violence. I can only hope that Oxford is the last. But it can only be so if we seize this moment. We must demand change. We must commit to more than thoughts and prayers. We must use our voices.
Remember Oxford. Remember Hana. Madisyn. Justin. Tate.
Remember. Remember, and fight for change.
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