This week, our Half Moon Bay community was shaken by a mass shooting. Half Moon Bay is a small beach town, known for pumpkins and Mavericks, and I never imagined that gun violence would happen so close to home. It was a tense afternoon as the tragedy unfolded, while we frantically called our friends and family to make sure they were ok. My heart goes out to the families of the seven victims who were killed in the senseless act of violence.
The next day at school, I was not sure what to expect. I was feeling uneasy and I didn’t know how the event affected our students. My plan was to be flexible and supportive as the day unfolded. We prepared to hold a listening session for our students and hold space for any emotions that came up along the way.
A listening session is a facilitated space for participants to express their feelings or experience. In this case, communication is one way, and finding solutions is not the goal. Participants are able to talk about what they are going through while others listen. It is a cathartic exercise that creates empathy.
Our listening session started by creating guidelines so everyone felt safe. We agreed to have an open heart and mind while listening, hold space for all feelings and perspectives, and speak using I statements. We asked if anyone had been personally affected by gun violence in the past so we knew what kind of background people were bringing with them to the space. If anyone started to feel uncomfortable, they could raise their hand and then get a drink of water or go to the bathroom to take a break.
During the listening session our students were honest speakers and engaged listeners. The most disheartening thing that came out of our listening session was that our students described their feelings as apathetic. One shared that they had been doing active shooter drills in school since Kindergarten so they were not surprised that something happened in Half Moon Bay. They felt like they had been prepared for it, and almost expected that our community would be affected at some point too. This was totally different from my shock to see our small town in national headlines. Our students felt like no community in the US is immune to gun violence, while I felt like Half Moon Bay was somehow protected. We are raising a generation that sees mass shootings as normal and this has to change!
In the last few days I have seen our community come together, support the victim’s families, and begin to heal. I don’t think we will ever truly understand what happened that day, but one thing we all agreed on during our listening session is that we don’t want Half Moon Bay to just be one more red dot on a map of mass shootings. I hope that we are able to mobilize and finally bring change to ensure stronger gun control laws. It’s the only answer to help our students feel safe in their homes, schools, and community and the best way to honor the seven people who lost their lives. It will take courage, but I believe our town can lead the way.