Sandy Hook Promise’s Riveting Back-to-School PSA

Back-to-School – Then

For my kids, it’s been three weeks since back-to-school. Three weeks since the summer-time scramble to purchase school supplies. The perfect lunchbox. At least one item of clothing bearing a unicorn. That’s life as a parent. Watching children scamper off into a world of knowledge.

Back-to-school was always a fun time for me. There was something about meeting up with friends I hadn’t seen all summer, and getting a class with a teacher I liked, that filled me with excitement. I still remember the commercials. The hype about falling into The Gap. Watching a father gleefully dance down a Staples aisle, loading his cart with anything and everything, as his children watched in despair. The Most Wonderful Time of The Year playing in the background. It was wonderful.

Back-to-School – Now

In the last few years, however, there is another piece of back-to-school that undercuts the joy it once represented. School shootings. Whereas the point of school has generally been to learn, students are taking in a new source of information. How to survive. Practicing how to stand on toilets in locked stalls. Finding the nearest exit. Playing dead if all else fails. CNN reported that in the last decade, there have been 180 school shootings, 356 victims. Their researchers found that there are “two sobering truths: School shootings are increasing, and no type of community is spared.”

Gone are the days of trying to stand out with graphic backpacks. The rage now are bulletproof backpacks and/or inserts. Yasir Sheikh, the president of Guard Dog Security, stated that while his company has not found a “direct correlation between mass shootings and sales increases” they are finding that sometimes “events trigger heightened awareness of the product.” Backpacks and inserts can range in prices. Anywhere from the low one hundred to almost $500. And depending on the company, style, size, and the ability to withstand different levels of ammunition, vary as well.

Gun Violence Initiative

It’s findings such as these that makes the work done by Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) all the more relevant. Founded in 2012 after the Sandy Hook school shooting, the non-profit organization, as described on their website, sought to honor victims of gun violence by turning their “tragedy into moments of transformation.” Through advertisements, initiatives and engagements, SHP implores parents and community members to take an active stance against gun violence.

Their most recent strategy involves a powerful PSA depicting children using their school supplies and personal items as tools for surviving a school shooting. From breaking a window with a skateboard to using a sock as a tourniquet, the PSA strikes a chord with parents and people alike. Co-founder, Nicole Hockley, who lost her six years old son in Sandy Hook, spoke about the video in an interview with Now This. She stated, “It’s hard to watch, but it should never be easy to watch.” With all of the attention school shootings receive in the media, the concern is that people are becoming desensitized to the horrors of these events.

The Reality

Watching the PSA, I was pulled in by every moment, but what stuck with me most was the ending. A young girl sits atop a toilet in a school stall. She texts her mom I love you. Then stares into the camera, tears running down her cheeks, and says, “I finally got my own phone to stay in touch with my mom.” Just then, the entry door to the restroom opens and ominous footsteps approach. My son just got his own phone this year, and I don’t know how I would react to receiving a similar message. Was he just in a loving mood? Or, is something wrong?

I think to myself; how did it get so bad that fear of a shooting, and even active shooter drills, became the norm? I was just worried about liking my teacher and hoping lunch was good. My biggest fear involved having to fight someone bigger than me or running from a dog on the way home. Now, children have the stress of worrying if they will make it out of their schools alive.

It’s not how I envisioned school for my children. Or any child. But this is reality. And Sandy Hook Promise’s PSA drives that point home. The video is uncomfortable to watch. It makes you shake your head and question society. But, more than anything, it makes you think. It makes you think about how we define, and what should be representative, of childhood.

I used to hear people say, “Back in my day,” right before making a moving point about how times have changed. I wonder what our children’s times will look like. And if change happens soon enough, that when they speak of school shootings, it will be at a time when they are no longer an issue.

Latanya Muhammad

Latanya Muhammad is a student advisor, group facilitator and freelance writer in Maryland. When she is not writing, she is wrangling her two children and husband. To read more of her work, or to interact, visit her website SheTanAgainWrites or find her on Facebook and Instagram.