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Speaking Out on Gun Violence

It was a shooting at a high school in Michigan in 2021 that compelled union activists to co-found Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence. Together, they sought to elevate stories of gun violence in schools and communities in order to change policies. They additionally committed to making resources and support available to educators, support staff and students who face the possibility of gun violence daily.

Co-founders and activists with the organization gathered last month in Washington, D.C., for our national union’s biennial TEACH (Together Educating America’s Children) conference. There they led a workshop titled, “Speaking of Gun Violence: How Do We Ensure Educator Voices Matter?,” and shared their stories of organizing and empowering educators to raise their voices.

Click here to learn more about, join and support Teachers Unify to End Gun Violence.

Abbey Clements (second from right, in photo), a veteran elementary school teacher and survivor of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, told attendees that surviving that fateful day was just the beginning. She and her fellow survivors had to deal with the repercussions.

“The aftermath is trying to figure out what your path forward is in this new normal,” Clements, a member of our AFT Connecticut-affiliated Newtown Federation of Teachers, said. That meant bringing educators into the discussion around gun violence because, in her mind, they were the “missing piece.”

The increasing number of school shootings motivated Clements to connect with educator colleagues and encourage them to start a national organization for teachers, by teachers, focused on ending the violence. That led to co-founding and eventually serving as Teachers Unify’s executive director.

Click here for our local Newtown teachers union president’s letter in response to last year’s Uvalde, TX school shooting.

“Gun violence has affected every single one of us in this room, directly or indirectly,” said Teachers Unify co-founder and New York City high school history teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg (right).

“My son was in first grade when Sandy Hook happened. You never think that something like this will happen to you…and then it did,” said Sarah Lerner (second from left), a 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor.

“When the news cycle changes, your school isn’t front and center anymore. There’s just so much that schools and communities need, but no one asks us what those things are,” added Lerner, also a Teachers Unify co-founder and an English teacher.

Click here for an on-demand webinar featuring Clements, Lerner and others aimed at supporting victims of gun violence.

La-Shanda West (left), a social studies teacher in Miami and a Teachers Unify ambassador who is also a survivor of gun violence, encouraged attendees to have the “uncomfortable conversations.” As a candidate for school board in a recent election, she used her voice and platform to tell her story and to make sure that her community understands that gun violence is unacceptable.

“You have a right to live in a community where you’re safe and secure,” said West. “And we need to hold policymakers accountable at all levels; not just local, but state and national, as well.”

Elevating educator stories is an integral part of Teachers Unify, added Clements. “If people don’t know what’s going on in your classrooms, what your students are dealing with, even in a broad way, then they can just normalize this,” she said. “Or they can just pretend it’s not happening. But you are the experts, you know what’s happening.”

Click here for recent press reporting on Clements’ policy advocacy with Teachers Unify.

Photo credit: Sari Beth Rosenberg

Editor’s note: includes contributions by Adrienne Coles, AFT

Matt O'Connor
Matt O'Connorhttp://aftct.org
Communications Coordinator for AFT Connecticut, a labor federation of over 30,000 hard-working women and men in the Nutmeg State.
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