Roswell parent: Vigil for victims of injustice, violence opened eyes

A parent writes about how her young son benefited from attending a school vigil in Marietta for victims of injustice and violence. More than 1,000 miles away from this George Floyd mural in Minneapolis, the Marietta vigil included a wall of hundreds of photos showing cultural events, rallies and protests, with Floyd’s photo among them. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Combined ShapeCaption
A parent writes about how her young son benefited from attending a school vigil in Marietta for victims of injustice and violence. More than 1,000 miles away from this George Floyd mural in Minneapolis, the Marietta vigil included a wall of hundreds of photos showing cultural events, rallies and protests, with Floyd’s photo among them. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Hearing stories different from our own is essential

In a guest column, parent Stephanie Knapp of Roswell writes about attending a vigil at a private school in Marietta for victims of injustice and violence.

The stay-at-home mother of two writes that she took her younger son to the event and worried for a moment about the impact of the stark accounts of injustice and violence on him. But Knapp said it proved a moving and helpful experience for her family.

By Stephanie Knapp

Walking into the Walker School in Marietta recently, I didn’t know what to expect from an event titled “A Vigil for Victims of Injustice and Violence.” It was hosted by students in the Diversity Alliance under a Facebook invitation that read “We are stronger together.”

What I did know was that as a white, Christian, suburban, heterosexual, stay-at-home mom married to a white man with two white sons, I needed to be there to learn and show support. As my husband, 11-year old son and I walked into the gym, we were asked to choose a ribbon to wear that represented a cause that spoke to us, along with a battery-powered tea light candle. (I have an older son at the school who could not make the event.)

The ribbons represented a wide array of causes including disability awareness, gun violence, mental health awareness, suicide and genocide prevention, victims of homophobia and violence against women. As we proceeded to our seats, we walked past a wall of hundreds of photos showing cultural events, rallies and protests. George Floyd’s photo was among them.

The 90-minute vigil began with a parent telling a personal story of struggle that highlighted the importance of being aware of our own biases and developing empathy for people who are different from us. Then high school student club members stood up one-by-one to talk about each of the causes. They each shared relevant data and powerful statistics.

Combined ShapeCaption
Stephanie Knapp (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

 Stephanie Knapp (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Combined ShapeCaption
Stephanie Knapp (Courtesy photo)

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

One student told us that 1 in 3 female victims of completed or attempted rape experienced it for the first time between the ages of 11-17. Another spoke aloud the name of each student who would have graduated from a U.S. high school this year, but was killed by school gun violence. Yet another student talked about the impacts of genocide on not only the targeted group, but on the entire country and its economy.

What sent chills through my body was the students standing up and telling their personal stories of struggle, perseverance and self-acceptance to a room of strangers. Many of us struggle with public speaking, yet these students stepped into their vulnerability to put a face to topics that would otherwise feel like another anonymous headline.

Facing a society that often tries to silence the voice of our youth for their perceived lack of experience, these students told of life struggles equal to those of many adults. After everyone spoke their truth, we had a moment of silence in a darkened gymnasium illuminated only with our candles. The event concluded with a challenge to think about how we could support these students and others.

Throughout the event, I found myself looking over to my son, who intently listened to each speaker. I wanted to see if I could get a sense of how his mind was processing this information and I caught myself questioning my decision to bring him. I thought: He’s a child, after all, and shouldn’t he be thinking about playing with friends instead of these atrocities?

Besides, as a white, Christian male, he won’t likely have to experience most of these struggles, so why should I expose him to such shattering life stories? But when the students spoke, he heard stories not only of hardship, but of grit, self-acceptance, bravery and personal power. He saw and heard real-life experiences that he may not encounter, yet others will, stories different from his own, coming from people close to his own age.

Afterwards, I asked the question I hoped would reassure me that it was sensible to bring my son: “So, what did you think about tonight?” The three of us spent our 20-minute ride home talking about what resonated most. My son spoke of empowerment and bravery, not atrocities. He spoke of the message of supporting each other, regardless of who we are or how we identify. He said he was glad he came and reminded me that people really are stronger together.

When we got home, our lives proceeded as usual. We ate dinner, hung out and went to bed. Even though there were still dishes and laundry, I somehow felt different. I woke up the next morning and began to write about the bravery of a handful of students from Marietta. I was reminded that all of us have a story that deserves to be heard, seen and accepted.

I was able to tell my son that regardless of whether anyone else reads these words, as a white, Christian, suburban, heterosexual, stay-at-home mom married to a white man with two white sons who has had the benefit of privilege, I am trying to do what I can to support others who are different from me. I want to model behavior that I hope he will follow.

And, ultimately, I want to do my small part to create a world that sees the beauty in our differences and acknowledges that we are more alike than different because we are stronger together.