“Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” –Martin Luther King Jr.
There have been three major violent attacks in the United States in the past six weeks. A shooter in Las Vegas killed 58 people and injured 546 others attending a music festival. In another attack, in New York City, a man murdered eight people and injured 12 using a rented truck from Home Depot to plow into them. Last Sunday, a man killed 26 and injured 20 people attending Sunday services at a church in a small town in Texas. As humans sharing the world, it is hard to believe how commonplace violence is, whether in the form of a “lone shooter” or as an “act of terrorism.” Instead of feeling the shock and horror we should, we have almost become numb in reaction to these outrageous and revolting events.
As a 17-year-old, I have never known a time in America where there wasn’t violence. I was just 1 year old when the 9/11 attacks happened. I have lived through many acts of violence, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in 2012. That same year, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old African- American from Florida, was fatally shot, ironically, by a neighborhood watch volunteer. Whether it’s a mass attack, mass shooting or the killing of one person, the action is violence and the result is the same—death. And we are left asking ourselves, “Why?” What can we do about it?
As teens, we don’t have to feel powerless. There are things we can do. One thing we can do is to raise awareness about religion and racism. Interfaith programs at our churches, synagogues, mosques and temples can help promote goodwill and understanding through diversity. By seeing that we share faith in a higher power and working together for the greater good, we promote understanding. Programs like Harvard University’s The Pluralism Project runs the Interfaith Youth Leadership Coalition in the St. Paul, Minn., area, where “teens work together to nurture interfaith understanding, reduce prejudice and misunderstanding, and act together on common values through service and justice to transform their worlds. In the process, these young people are empowered to be capable interfaith leaders, both within their own communities and beyond.” This program includes many community-based events like a gardening service as well as leadership workshops for the teens. Having more programs like this one, throughout the United States and the world, will help cultivate more understanding leadership and promote greater understanding among different religions.
Teens can also raise awareness of gun violence. Events such as Seattle, Washington’s “Teens Against Guns Youth Summit,” hosted by the Atlantic Street Center, are a way to bring teens together to actively support the anti-gun movement at a grassroots level. Programs like these can help empower teens to help them realize they can be proactive in ending the cycle of violence.
Another way teens can use their voice to denounce violence and terror is through social media. When she was challenged by another student to prove there were Muslims who condemned violence in the name of Islam, Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old college student at the University of Colorado Boulder, decided to make a list of all the Muslim groups that did. According to a November 2016 Teen Vogue article, “ The result was Worldwide Muslims Condemn List — a spreadsheet with 5,720 instances of Muslim groups and leaders denouncing various acts of terrorism.” Her Twitter account generated 12,000 re-tweets and the list has been made into an interactive website called www.muslimscondemn.com. Her idea led to a resource for anyone to access the information.
Whether coming together in an interfaith group, rallying at an anti-gun youth summit or using social media to create awareness against violence, teens have a voice. Gun violence and terror attacks need to end in my generation. Maybe Mr. Rogers (Fred Rogers), said it best: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ” We, as teens, need to be those helpers.
“Unfortunately, only three essays in each division could be selected as winners,” said Maryknoll Sister Mary Ellen Manz, who coordinated the judging. “But, we were so inspired by all the students who shared their experiences and ideas that we congratulate each one as well as their teachers who encouraged them to write.”
The essays written by the first-place winners in each category will be published in the May/June 2016 issue of Maryknoll magazine. All six winning essays will be featured in the Jubilee Year of Mercy exhibit that will be unveiled at the Maryknoll Museum of Living Mission at the Maryknoll Mission Center in Ossining, New York, during the second half of the year. All winning entries also will be published online at www.maryknollsociety.org/winners .
The 2015 Maryknoll Student Essay Contest Awards will be presented to: Division I (grades six to eight)
First Place ($1,000): The Bishop Francis X. Ford Award is named in honor of the Maryknoll missioner who died in a prison in China during 1952.
· Grace Wilson (eighth grade), St. James Elementary School, Red Bank, New Jersey. Teacher/catechist: Ms. Tracy Varno
Second Place ($300)
· Julia Osborne (seventh grade), St. John Fisher School, Rancho Palos Verdes, California. Teacher/catechist: Ms. Mary Clare McQuade
Third Place ($150)
· Codi Dicharry (eighth grade), St. Peter Chanel Interparochial School, Paulina, Louisiana. Teacher/catechist: Mrs. Geralyn Millet
Division II (grades nine to 12)
First Place ($1,000): The Bishop Patrick J. Byrne Award is named for the Maryknoll missioner who died on a forced march in Korea during 1950.
· Anna Brest (11th grade), Cary High School, Cary, North Carolina. Teacher/catechist: Deacon Mark Westrick
Second Place ($300)
· Adriana Collins (12th grade), Huntingtown High School, Huntingtown, Maryland, Teacher/catechist: Mrs. Tina Gall.