A Tale of Love, Guns and Solidarity — The Parkland Initiative

On the bright morning of February 14, 2018, the might of United States, one of the biggest and most affluent democracies in the world was defaced. A 19-year-old perpetrator heartlessly opened fire at the students and members of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School situated in Parkland, Florida. Dreams were shattered, students were scarred and some families would never be the same again. The massacre which led to the demise of 17 students and injured several, eventually triggered nationwide demonstrations and a fierce debate on gun control. Placards crying security, social media campaigns showing solidarity, primetime news debating the future of the gun laws were the turn of events over the course of the following days. Significantly, one of America’s routine massacres marked the beginning of an unprecedented student movement. The students of the United States of America have portrayed a sense of awakening and found their own voice to depict the unheard and to dispute the sales of guns in the country.

The Letters of Love team wasn’t far behind in joining the movement. Our team based in the United States came together to do what they do best in these flailing times of hate and acrimony — spread love, create awareness and enable empowerment. The following are accounts of our operations manager and American student ambassadors doing their bit to be the change:

What propelled the Parkland Initiative?

“The Parkland Initiative was something that Eric Shagrin, one of our superhuman Student Ambassadors, approached myself and Pooja, with. He lives in Florida, a few miles from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where a man killed 17 people using a semi-automatic assault rifle. When Eric came across a tragic post on social media that asked for letters of support for the grieving students of Stoneman Douglas High School, he believed that ‘Letters of Love’ would be the go-to organisation for the same. Because of the accelerated nature of the initiative, and the nature of the incident being a quintessential American tragedy, we gathered majority of the letters from different parts of the United States. That being said, many of our Student Ambassadors living outside the United States digitally sent messages of love and solidarity for the bereaved students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School”.
 — Ella Neville

What did team Letters of Love do?

“I set up a letter writing station in my school lobby on the forefront of the school premises. That way, students entering the building could write a letter before going to class. Also, my Social Studies teacher collected letters of love from his classes. Lastly, my sister wrote letters with her Language Arts class.”
 — Gabby Weiss

“I led three letter collection drives at my high school. The first one being through ‘Key Club’, the high school branch of Kiwanis International. ‘Key Club’ gives high school students the opportunity to volunteer in local communities and make a difference in their school. I was able to collect a little over 50 letters, but I wanted more! So, I contacted my English and Social Studies teachers, both of whom agreed to take time-out of their lesson plans so that their students could write letters. In the end, I was able to collect over 100 letters from my school. I was so proud of my peers for taking this on and pouring their heart and soul into the letters. In such a short time, we were able to do a great amount of work.”
 — Amy Topchik

“I was in charge of reaching out to my principal to make this initiative happen in my school. I posted on social media that our school would be involved in making supportive cards. I purchased 50 dollars’ worth of craft supplies for each home-room. I conveyed over the student announcements that we would be making cards to help other students in need. I was also in charge of collecting the cards from my school, making over 30 cards myself, and mailing the cards to Eric who resides in Florida and was going to deliver them to the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School .”
 — Kelly Maguire

What were their observations?

“Given that I attend an inner-city public school, many of my peers have been deeply impacted by the gun violence that often takes place in our local community. So I extended support with that indicative, not only because it’s what I would want others to do for me if I was in that situation but because it is an important subject that resonates with many of my classmates.”
 — Clara Neville

“I noticed that many kids didn’t know what to say, I didn’t either. It is hard to find the right words to help someone going through such an awful situation.”
 — Gabby

“I was so impressed with every single student from my school who sent a letter to the students of Parkland. Regardless of their political views, each student wrote kind, hopeful messages of solidarity. It goes to prove that this is not a partisan issue. It is not democrat or republican, liberal or conservative, blue or red. It is a safety issue. It is about ending school shootings and gun violence across the country. I think most people can find humanity in that and write a simple letter expressing their condolences and support.”
 — Amy

Why did they do what they did!

“The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the leaders of the #NEVERAGAIN movement, and many other young activists around the country have taken the initiative to do what the U.S. politicians should have done a long time ago. They have personally inspired me to take action and fight for what I know is right. I will no longer simply “like” and “retweet” posts demanding laws that protect students and communities from gun violence. I will take action. I can’t vote yet, but there is still so much I can do. I felt that the LOL initiative was just one of the many ways in which I could make a difference. I want the students of Parkland to know that I am in complete and utter awe of them and that I support them. I want them to know that I, along with people across the country and the world, will fight with them until the end.”
 — Amy

“I live around 15 minutes from Parkland, so this shooting felt very close to home. I was upset and angry that this happened, and desperately wanted to do something to make the situation just a little bit better.”
 — Eric Shagrin

“Seeing the tragic events that occurred during February in Parkland and relating to the pain of losing classmates this year, I was inspired to help do anything positive for these grieving teenagers. I also saw the constant flow of negativity these teens from Parkland were and still are receiving, and I wanted to be able to let them know that we are here for them in this difficult time.”
 — Kelly

What were they expecting out of it?

“I know that this initiative is not going to change the world. It isn’t going to stop school shootings or end gun violence. It isn’t going to end the gun control debate. It isn’t going to instantly heal the citizens of Parkland and end their grieving. THAT IS NOT WHAT LETTERS OF LOVE IS ABOUT! Letters of Love is about the power of human connection and love. It is about the importance of doing “whatever you can, with whatever you have, wherever you are”. Maybe these letters will make just one person smile. Maybe the support will help someone feel a little less alone. Even if the effort only helps one person, it was not a wasted effort.”

— Amy

“I am expected to support those teenagers who are going through the unthinkable but who are using their voices and standing up for what theybelieve in and causing a huge change within our nation.”

— Clara

“I expect that students from other schools and especially my own will continue to reach out to other teenagers who are experiencing something incomprehensible. I also believe that if the youth continue to be as brave as they are and push for change like the students from Parkland, then we will get the change needed in this country. And, it starts with the people showing more empathy and support for others.”
 — Kelly

Kelly Maguire with the help of her schoolmates also prepared a mural for the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglass. She reached out to the principal of the school and he replied affirmatively and agreed to accept the 8ft by 9 ft mural. Kelly kindly attributes her artistic inspiration to Letters of Love.