Local Students Share Their Experience Working on the National Gun Violence Memorial Project
By SOPHIE FRIEDBERG and NICOLE LEVI
The following piece was submitted by Palisades Charter High School students Sophie Friedberg, a longtime Junior Reporter with the Palisadian-Post, and Nicole Levi, who both participated in the #SinceParkland project, profiling the lives of over 1,200 minors who have been killed by gun violence since the Parkland school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
It was two days before the one-year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting. Along with more than 200 other students across the nation, we opened up our computers to see an email from The Trace News Organization with the subject line we had all been waiting for.
“GET READY: Since Parkland is launching in 30 minutes.”
A year in the making, over 1,200 profiles crafted from hours upon hours of combing through news articles, police reports, GoFundMe pages and Facebook profiles—it was finally real.
1,200 minors have died in the United States since the tragic Parkland shooting. Their deaths often went unnoticed by the public, scarcely reported on. The world may not have known their names or their stories, but they were about to.
The #SinceParkland project was an initiative by a nonprofit organization called The Trace to memorialize the lives of all children lost to gun violence between the tragic shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and its one-year anniversary. The victims were profiled entirely by student journalists, young people just like them.
Being involved with this was so profoundly meaningful to us, in more ways than one. Uncovering the stories of our fallen peers, showing them as they were, not numbers or cautionary tales, but people with families, people you could’ve been friends with, people with hopes and dreams and futures that were taken away.
We didn’t think we could ever do anything like this. We didn’t think that teenagers could be a part of something so monumental.
#SinceParkland proved us wrong. #SinceParkland taught us that we had a voice.
Each story written required immense research. We didn’t just want to know how these children died, we wanted to know how they lived. Things as simple as a family member, a hobby, even their school, were buried underneath pages and pages of clinical reporting from local news sites.
More often than not, the news sites did not have the information we needed. It was the more personal sources, like comments on a GoFundMe for funeral expenses or a close friend’s Facebook page, that gave us insight as to who these people were.
In reading these, something became clear to us: Teen voices aren’t just impactful, they’re essential.
As teenagers ourselves, we looked at these reports differently than professional adult reporters did—we looked at them knowing they could’ve been us.
They were brothers, girlfriends, club presidents, artists, thespians, athletes, jokers, dancers, college-bound seniors and much, much more. They went to the movies, they stressed over their APs, they took Polaroids of the sunset.
There was a special kind of empathy between the victims and us. We wrote their stories with an understanding that they were human, asking ourselves before each sentence: “How would I want to be remembered?”
In just 100 words or less, we tried to capture who these people were: the family bonds, the lasting friendships, the hobbies and passions, the future plans. The emphasis was always on how their lives were lived, not just how they ended.
We are all too familiar with the concept of gun violence in our nation. As teens in the post-Columbine era, it seems we are constantly hearing about the bullets that fly in the faces of kids who are just like us and the weeping parents who plead for change on national news.
In the midst of all this calamity, how can we possibly get involved? Shouldn’t the reporting, the research, the writing for something so large be handled by the adults?
When we read about the teenage boy accidentally killed by a friend who was playing with a shotgun, the worried father finding his daughter’s car abandoned near the house were she lay dead, the toddler shot to death in his father’s arms, we felt so small and helpless against the issue of gun violence that doing anything seemed futile.
If we or the other teen reporters who felt this way had given up, had concluded that the issue was too large and there was nothing we could do, then #SinceParkland wouldn’t have happened. The awareness that the project brought would have been lost and so would the honor that it gave to all these victims.
Because teenagers got involved, because they didn’t give up and because they told these stories in the unique and empathetic way that they did, this effort was more powerful than it ever could have been if it had been executed solely by adults.
Did we solve gun violence? No, but we gave 1,200 young people the respect they deserve, and we feel that the world is a better place for it.
We can’t just leave things to the adults. We can’t, as teenagers, sit back and say that the world’s problems are too extensive for us to impact. Teenage efforts can do immense good, and when we come together, as in #SinceParkland, the potential goes to no end.
We are the next generation. We are the next reporters, CEOs, engineers, politicians and philanthropists. If you’re reading this and you feel like you can’t make a difference in the world, remember what #SinceParkland taught us. You can make the world a better place in any number of ways and none of them are as small as you might think they are.
Go out and be an empathetic reporter, a passionate educator, an avid volunteer, whatever you want to be. Your efforts matters just as much now as they will in 10 or 20 years. We inherit the problems that we neglect today.
We proved to ourselves that we are capable of doing something amazing, and since its release date, the project has gained attention from major news sources such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, as well as David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland shooting and a figurehead of March for Our Lives.
With #SinceParkland, student journalists shared one common goal: to remember the lives destroyed by bullets. But beyond this goal, which we are honored and proud to achieve, we made our own ripple effects.
Before we worked on this project, we saw only a small scope of the issue. For us, gun violence was tied exclusively to political rhetoric and school shootings. Just as we were made more aware of how vast this issue is, those who read our stories were as well.
We showed the world how many people become victims every day.
If just one person reads our stories and realizes that this issue is so human, so complex and so unnecessary, then we did our job.
There are rarely silver bullet solutions to any problem, but we can always make things better. Go out and make things better.
For more information or to view the project in its entirety, visit sinceparkland.org.