Opinion: My generation can map its childhood by mass shootings

Even a 2013 incident in DeKalb that ended with schoolchildren safe left trauma

Jordan Madden, 18, is a student at Georgia State University. He attended K-12 school in Clayton and DeKalb counties. He is an organizer with the Georgia Youth Justice Coalition.

In a guest column, Madden talks about the need for gun laws to prevent school shootings.

By Jordan Madden

Almost 10 years ago, I sat with my classmates at Flat Shoals Elementary School in DeKalb County during our second week of school, waiting for a scheduled school fire drill to begin. When the alarm rang, we walked single file onto the school field.

We started to become restless because it was nearing the end of the school day and we weren’t being called back to the building. Suddenly, teachers asked us to quiet down. We started to hear our administrators, at the top of the hill near the school building, receive information over their walkie-talkies.

We didn’t know what was happening, but speculated that our school had really caught fire. We jokingly celebrated because, to us, that meant having a slim chance of not having to go to school until they built a new one. Oh, were we terrible students. And naive ones.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

On that sunny August afternoon in 2013, we couldn’t fathom that a man carrying an AK-47 assault rifle slipped into nearby Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy after lunch and told an office employee to call a TV station because he wanted film crews on the scene “to start filming as police die.”

As that news was relayed to our school leaders, the adults began pushing all of us into the school building. No single file? No dismissal by class? No ringing of the school bell to signal the fire drill was over?

I didn’t understand what was happening but knew I should be afraid and that I should run. We were rushed into the building and then into classrooms. Our teacher only told us that a school nearby was having a serious emergency, and we were at risk because of our proximity. I remember wondering which school it was, as I had friends and family at schools nearby.

So many people that I loved and cared about came to mind — were they OK? Then my teacher, Ms. May, did something I’d never forget. She told us to take out a sheet of paper, write to someone we love, and give something away that was most valuable to us. Students started shouting things that they would give out. “My games. My scooter. My bike.” Now, I tear up whenever I think about Ms. May.

This wasn’t the first active shooter in my community, and it wouldn’t be the last. The 20-year-old man who brought a gun into the McNair school fired random shots in the school before surrendering, talked out of his deadly plan by a heroic bookkeeper.

Looking back, I can map my childhood through mass shootings, near and far. I remember my STEM project in middle school was about designing a school that could include prevention measures for such an attack. What a cruel exercise to ask children to envision a barricade between them and mass murder. I remember the days when little me prayed for my cousins and parents in the back of the classroom while we hid due to the gunman at McNair. I know my story isn’t unique.

That’s the devastating part. Almost every student has a story about the violence inflicted on their community by the refusal of politicians to value children’s lives more than easy access to guns.

Our children deserve not only safety but justice. Traumatizing children became the norm when our elected officials decided their thoughts and prayers stood in for action. The trauma I suffered as a child made me question our elected officials’ intentions. I think about those innocent children who lost their lives in Uvalde, Texas, and ask all the elected officials who refuse to fight for us: Is it worth it?

Our lives will never be the same. Knowing people in power would rather let children be murdered in classrooms than sacrifice power or privilege changes you. Perhaps these politicians underestimate what young Americans live through today. Do they know what it’s like to be a child praying for your life in your classroom?

Those who believe permitless carry was a bigger priority than funding schools and those politicians whose contributions from the National Rifle Association are what stands between us and the future we deserve.

To our elected officials: You have not known that fear. You do not know what it means to have been forced into bravery by a system that doesn’t make children’s lives and safety a priority. It takes bravery to grow up amid all the gun violence in our schools.

But what takes even more bravery is summoning the courage to imagine a more just world where every single student not only survives but thrives. I am among the students now working for a political system that does not deem us disposable.

As students, we’ll keep organizing for justice until we get there. Every day, I fight for justice in our schools. If growing up in an era of school shootings has taught me anything, it’s that politicians won’t save us. We will save us. We, the people, with the courage and the love to not just demand better but to work for it.

The author of this guest column, Jordan Madden,was a student at a DeKalb elementary school when an armed gunman entered a nearby school with an AK-47 type assault rifle and bags containing hundreds of rounds of ammunition.