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Turning Pain Into Proactive Action

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Erin Kennedy, a junior at eAchieve Academy in Wisconsin, experienced gun violence first hand at Waukesha South High School during her sophomore year. Learn how Erin is turning her pain into action by becoming a Promise Leader.

December 2, 2019, started out as a typical day for me. It was the Monday after Thanksgiving break and, like most other students, I was not exactly thrilled to go to school. That being said, I made sure I was ready on time for my Spanish class. I had been a full-time student at eAchieve, Wisconsin’s online learning academy, taking my core classes while being a part-time student at Waukesha South High School, taking my elective courses. 


My mom had dropped me off at school and I made my way to the second floor to the Spanish room. The bell rang and class began as usual. My teacher, Señora Boyd, assigned my classmates and I some small group projects. Many of us decided to work together in the hallway. As Señora Boyd checked in on us, a group of students suddenly came running out of the classroom across the hall. This door was located right next to where my group was working. 

As the kids ran out of the room they were saying in a loud whisper, “he has a gun.” 

Everybody from my class who was in the hallway looked up and made eye contact with Señora Boyd. Without hesitation, she ushered us back into our classroom, as we saw a police officer quickly approaching with his gun drawn. 

All of the lockdown drills American children are taught in schools were then put into action.  

Before we could comprehend what was happening, there was an eruption of muffled screaming followed by gunshots. My classmates and I felt our hearts collectively sink into our stomachs. My mind began to wander and my imagination took over. I had seen all the news stories and wondered if this would be a repeat of a past tragedy. I wondered whether the gunshots came from police or from a student. 

While scanning the room, I saw a sea of faces expressing the emotions of fear and shock. A student was shot by police after threatening an officer with a handgun, authorities said. 

Building a Support System 

December 2nd resulted in a series of uncomfortable symptoms. Yet my classmates, Señora Boyd, and I have never felt closer. We formed a strong bond, and feel connected to each other despite being in a school of nearly 1,000 people. We have become a strong support system for one another. 

That day has started to slip into the past, but the memories still remain very present to my classmates, my teacher, and myself. What every student, educator, and parent fears had happened to us. While I can only speak for myself, I am sure I am not alone in experiencing sleepless nights, intrusive thoughts, generalized anxiety, and hesitancy in going to school. 

Being part of that support system meant baking gingerbread cookies for my Spanish class during our school’s holiday spirit week which came just weeks after the incident. 

Branching Out 

Along with supporting those around me, I also plan to support those who have suffered as victims of gun violence nationally. The events of December 2nd have left me with a lost sense of security. I have experienced sadness, anger, and fear as a result. As I am healing from this traumatic event, I wanted to make it clear to myself and others that I am stronger than the pain this event has caused. 

I have taken action to channel these negative feelings and turn them into positive action. While no lives were lost that day at Waukesha South, too many lives have been lost due to gun violence in schools. I do not want any other student or educator to feel unsafe or experience violence in school. I do not want parents and family members to worry that their loved one(s) will not return at the end of the day. 

Turning Feelings Into Actions

These ideas have sparked a passion inside of me that I am only now ready to express. That is why I have become a Promise Leader for Sandy Hook Promise. The foundation and its many volunteers share my same ambitious goal: to end gun violence in schools. While being a Promise Leader, I have the opportunity to participate in community outreach, fundraising, and other outlets to raise awareness. While I am a new volunteer to the program and the COVID-19 pandemic has paused many in-person volunteering opportunities, I look forward to the work I will be doing.  

Eliminating gun violence in America may seem like “too big” of a goal, but I disagree. I am no stranger to road bumps in life. I have always had a strong fighting spirit. The challenge of terminating gun violence is no different than other challenges that I have faced. I will always put in my best effort. Through the process of healing, I have become stronger by channeling my pain into proactive action. 

Take Action 

There are a lot of things that you can do in your own community to prevent another tragedy before it can happen. Join the thousands of other Promise Leaders who are making a difference. See what you can do by becoming a Promise Leader today!