My Sandy Hook Promise - by Greer Clem

I remember the day mostly because of a phone call with my mom. She was distraught; it was nearing Christmas time and we had been talking about gift ideas for my brother, who was then in first grade, the same age as most of the twenty children who lost their lives that day. I FaceTimed with him that night from my freshman dorm room, needing to see his face and be reminded that I was the luckiest. He was still here.

The following summer, I was home in LA working for a communications firm, RALLY, that specialized in working with nonprofit organizations. One of their clients was The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, a group started by parents who had lost their children on December 14, 2012. When I worked with them, it was only eight months after the shooting and two months after the Manchin-Toomey Bill had failed to pass in Congress. Those who were closest to Barack Obama said that the day Congress failed to pass that bill was one of his hardest days in office. He, rightfully, lamented that if Sandy Hook couldn’t get us gun control legislation, what could?

The Sandy Hook Promise Foundation was still new at the time. Parents had been doing press and trying to keep up momentum for the cause, all the while still trying to repair their families in Newtown. Siblings of those lost at Sandy Hook still had to get up, have breakfast, go to school, come home. These parents, demonstrating a human strength above any I had ever seen, were also flying to LA and across the country to do interviews and meet with legislators. One of the founding members, a mom who had lost her son, came to LA to meet with our team and work on strengthening the organization’s message. I attended that meeting and remember shaking her hand, wishing that I knew the words to describe how it felt to be there with her.

One of my tasks for the foundation had been to write up bios of all the children who were killed that day. I pulled all the press that had been done so far, watched hours of footage and interviews from the days after the shooting. At lunch, I would go down to my car and I would cry. Some people who worked with me then may be reading this now. They probably understand and they probably cried too. I was eighteen when I had that internship and in the midst of my own personal crisis. I did not excel at this internship; I let my own issues prevent me from being as involved as I should have. But the thing I will never take for granted, the experience that I will never underestimate, was working for the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation. I got to go home at the end of a day spent reading about twenty kids I would never meet and hug my own brother. I got to leave work at work and go be with my beautifully intact and blissfully whole family. For twenty six families in Newtown, for countless families in Orlando, for hundreds more in Las Vegas, they will never have another day like that.

This is not a happy piece, but it is a necessary one. I rarely talk about my experience working briefly with the Sandy Hook Promise, not wanting to overemphasize my involvement or, quite frankly, to drudge up memories of that day in December when our country was changed. Then, on a day over the summer while driving back from New York, we pulled off the highway and ended up in Sandy Hook. Me, my mom, and my brother all got sandwiches. My mom went to poke her head in an antique store while Mason and I stood on a little bridge over the river running through town. I stood there with my brilliant and beautiful brother who was oblivious to my teary eyes and thought how lucky I was.

It is five years later and our country is changed. In many ways, it has changed for the worse (see: everything I’ve ever written about Trump). But in others, it is a time when dialogue in our country has taken on a life of its own. We still owe the families of Sandy Hook concrete legislative action to protect other families from ever having to live that horror themselves. Many would argue that our chances of doing this were at their best under Obama, but I refuse to accept that answer. We are showing Trump and his administration how strong our voices are and we must do so on the issue of gun violence. Maybe our chances were better under Obama, but our gumption is bigger under Trump. We are living in a year of reckoning and accountability, and we must extend that pressure to tangible gun legislation. Republicans don’t have to like it. They can try to stop it; fine, we’ll vote you out of office. My challenge to myself and to all those who read this is to not forget: don’t forget the kids we lost on this day five years ago and don’t forget that we owe it to them to make our country safer. Today I remember them and I make my own Sandy Hook Promise: to use my voice and the voices of those I love so that we may change our country for the better.

Please click here to learn more about the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation and to get involved. 

Greer Clem