By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
As a third grader at Garnett Elementary School in Gary, I wrote a letter to John F. Kennedy after watching television news one night and becoming concerned with the threat of war precipitated by the Cuban Missile Crisis. To my amazement, a few weeks letter, I found a letter in the mailbox that read “White House.”
President Kennedy was thanking me for being concerned, assuring me that he was doing all he could to keep the peace. My principal, Gladys Johnson, made me read it over the intercom the next morning, then the library mounted it and put it on display in the window of the school library.
The thought of writing a president never occurred to me again – until recently.
One day I was pondering the quiet numbness that characterizes the reply of too many Americans when we hear about brutal, senseless murders and unending shooting victims. It donned on me how the appalling has become commonplace and how sad that is for any civilization.
Even when the victims are the most vulnerable – the elderly, school children, young adults approaching the prime of their lives – if there is any outrage at all, it tends to be more of a whisper rather than a cry. And when the grieving and mourning of the moment dissipates, so does public intolerance.
How insane is it for a nation to be preoccupied with international terrorism without requiring those vying for the highest office in the free world to focus on gun control? I know, the NRA fanatics shut it down with the callous theme: “Guns don’t kill people…people do.” There is little or no compassion for victims and their families.
So I wrote to President Obama. I shared how four of the seven male siblings in the Williams family were shot in innocent, unarmed circumstances. One of my brothers, Alonzo, was fatally wounded. Injuries suffered by my oldest, Willie Jr., left him a quadriplegic. Bernard and I were shot but fully recovered.
President Barrack Obama receives more than 200,000 letters, e-mail messages and faxes arrive at the White House every day. A few hundred are culled and end up each weekday afternoon on a round wooden table in the office of Mr. Kelleher, the director of the White House Office of Correspondence.
He chooses 10 letters, which are slipped into a purple folder and put in the daily briefing book that is delivered to President Obama at the White House residence. Designed to offer a sampling of what Americans are thinking, the letters are read by the president for personal responses.
“We pick messages that are compelling, things people say that, when you read it, you get a chill,” said Kelleher. “I send him letters that are uncomfortable messages.” The ritual offers Mr. Obama a way to move beyond the White House bubble; to stay in touch.
I was surprised, gratified and humbled when President Obama chose my letter as one of the 10 to respond to personally. It affirmed my perception of the president being a compassionate and thoughtful leader. So many suffer and need to know their hurt matters.
Most if not all of us know someone personally impacted by gun violence in America. For example, my friend Gregory Wilson’s 34-year-old namesake was shot and killed on the streets of Indianapolis where gun violence is escalating.
Wilson laments, “It’s been almost a year since my son was murdered in broad daylight, on one of the busiest streets in the city and it’s as painful today as it was then. We have so many unsolved murders in the Black community, I will be putting together a stop the violence event. We can’t continue to ignore the loss of life in our community.”
“This is a crisis, and we must come together. While I have this pain, I think I have something to do to honor my son, and that’s to speak out against this violence. We’ve got to stop this senseless bloodshed. Just like it was my son, it can be your son. So many others have lost their children. We have to speak up. I have to make a stand.”
Please don’t ignore the pleas of millions. Write to lawmakers. Organize rallies. Form a neighborhood watch. Develop youth programs. Make your church an advocate. Mentor a youth. Hold local public officials accountable. Involve your organization or professional group. Donate to a scholarship fund. Conduct community forums.
The list of possibilities is endless. It’s easy to dismiss it all rationalizing that you are too busy, or have no direct ties to the issue, or that one person can’t change anything. One snow-flake may be inconsequential. But enough combined can cause an avalanche.
If you call yourself a patriot, it’s your duty. If a Christian, you are obliged to service. One person can make a difference.
Please. Don’t just sit there. Do something.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].