A total of 33 students stood together in the cold in the gazebo on Boston Common, each holding a small, flickering candle, symbolizing the victims whose lives were taken Dec. 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
After a moment of silence in remembrance, different students stepped forward from the circle to tell their own personal stories of gun-related violence.
This event was part of Emerson’s Aim to End Violence Week, started by Emerson Peace and Social Justice. After the school shooting in Newtown, Conn., students began reaching out to EPSJ, urging its members to organize an event where they could address the problem of gun violence, according to EPSJ member John Dentiger.
On its website, EPSJ describes itself as a student-run organization, hosting different social justice awareness and action campaigns.
Realizing something had to be done, Dentiger, a junior media studies major; Dennis Connors, a sophomore performing arts major; and Colin Faherty, a sophomore writing, literature, and publishing major, brought up the idea of Emerson’s Aim to End Violence in the hopes of creating a week full of events centered on gun violence issues.
Their main goal was to create student conversation through daily gatherings over the course of one week. Organizers ask students to wear specific colors at each event to symbolize the locations of four shootings (Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, and Aurora) that happened in the past 14 years.
Dentinger said student voices were important in the creation of Aim to End Violence in the hopes of creating a week full of events centered on gun violence. “Students were really looking to EPSJ to do something,” he said. “That’s when we knew.”
A total of 10 organizations are contributing to the gun violence week, including Emerson College Republicans; Emerson College Democrats; Communication Politics and Law Association; and Kidding Around, a theater group on campus.
Connors said this collaboration was what made Aim to End Violence Week possible.
”Our conversations with the different organizations were about what they wanted to focus on and what they wanted to do,” he explained. “We cycled through ideas and came up with a schedule. I don’t think just one organization could put together this one week.”
Aim to End Violence ended the first day of events with the candlelight vigil at the gazebo on Boston Common. The assigned colors of the day were green and white, in remembrance of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Sophomore Liz Isenburg was at the event. She said she thought the candlelight vigil was a wonderful idea.
“I loved the idea of lighting candles for these victims,” the writing, literature, and publishing major said. “I also like how there’s a whole week dedicated to ending violence, so that we can finally talk about what needs to be done so that lives aren’t lost.”
But another one of those voices belonged to EPSJ member Alicia Carroll, a sophomore visual and media arts major. During an open discussion, Carroll talked about what life was like growing up in a bad part of North Philadelphia.
“Whenever I tell my mom I miss the city, she would remind me about the times she used to tell me the sounds of gunshots outside were fireworks,” she said. “There was crime happening all around me, but I was so young, I didn’t understand what was happening.”
The first time Carroll ever talked about her experiences growing up was at the candlelight vigil. She said she decided to speak up to bring the group’s attention to another aspect of gun violence.
“Just knowing, in hindsight, the stuff I was surrounded with as a kid, I wanted to share the inner-city perspective rather than the traumatic, national stories,” she said. “Everybody knows about these major events that happen, but no one knows about the people that are murdered every day in the middle of the city.”
Sharing stories like this is what Aim to End Violence is all about, according to Faherty. He said he knew the event was a success when students began sharing their own personal thoughts on gun violence in today’s society.
“I’ve had people just stop me and talk to me about how they feel about this issue, and I feel a lot of people are just finding out about it today,” Faherty said. “They’re becoming excited about what they can do to get involved. We really hope this week will inspire some organic conversation.”
The three organizers said they were inspired by the way President M. Lee Pelton responded to the shooting in Connecticut.
“It had a lot to do with President Pelton’s email to President Obama,” Connors said. “It was just this call to action for us as a school, and particularly us as an organization, to do something to start having these conversations.”
The three of them scheduled a meeting with Pelton to discuss ways EPSJ could successfully organize a week-long event around such a sensitive subject.
With Pelton’s office helping to promote Aim to End Violence, Connors said the event has received a lot of attention.
“Administration has been very helpful. [Pelton’s office] just sent out an email blast full of information about this week, and we’re also on the main page of emerson.edu in a couple of the side columns,” he said. “[Pelton] even mentioned us in his [March 18th] address during his Gun Violence in America discussion panel.”
Aim to End Violence also took hold of social media by starting campaigns on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube to get the word out to students. A list of daily events is posted on the social media and on flyers placed around the school.
The events continue into Friday and Saturday. On the last day, students are invited to participate in a write-in campaign to state congressmen about what they think should be done about gun control, as a final summary of a week’s worth of discussions.
“We want students to walk away with feeling like they know more about the issue,” Connors said. “They feel like they have a voice that can be heard, and that they use that voice to take action.”