By Sam Aboudara
February 14th was one of those typically busy days at work where I barely had a second to think. It wasn’t until I got home and hung up the phone that I even learned about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. My wife shared with me the news and my reaction was surprising. I didn’t rush to turn on the news, or ask questions, or even recommence the ongoing conversation we often have about this subject and the changes needed. I just let out a long and hopeless sigh. For the first time, hearing this news was frighteningly familiar and I resigned to the fact that not much would likely change.
The next morning, I joined 200 other youth professionals from across the Jewish communal landscape, as well as 3,500 teenagers at the BBYO International Convention in Orlando, Florida. I sat during the opening ceremony listening to various teen leaders who took the stage and spoke. The next day, I was moved by impassioned speeches delivered by Mike Signer, Mayor of Charlottesville as well as Susan Bro, mother of Heather Heyer, killed in the Charlottesville car attack, as well as those from Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL, Caryl Stern of UNICEF and a number of other activists all with a common theme: Inspiring Change making.
Sitting in that auditorium, the atmosphere was electric and it was easy to understand how a social movement successfully snowballs. It quickly reminded me of the power of a group of passionate teenagers to influence change and I thought about that and how it pertains to the tragic events that had occurred the previous day.
In the days since, my newsfeed has continued to be filled with teenagers. Every single news article and video clip has centered around the poignant and driven speeches delivered by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. At the forefront we’re not seeing politicians, we’re not seeing communal leaders, we’re not seeing heads of major lobbying groups and nonprofits, we’re seeing teenagers, and there’s a good reason for that.
They have nothing to lose. They don’t have the burden of needing to consider their choices from a practical or financial standpoint. They haven’t been beat down enough by flawed systems and rude awakenings of the “real” world. They get to address their issues from a place of pure idealism, integrity and principle. For this reason, they are the perfect group of people to lead this change, and I believe that when positive reforms are made, we will have them to thank.
As someone privileged to work with Jewish teenagers professionally, I couldn’t be prouder of what they and their peers are doing right now. To those in a similar situation as me, we have a duty now more than ever to guide and support them to where they are headed.
Sam Aboudara is Director of NJY Teen Camp.