My name is Ana Rodriguez. I lost my daughter, Maite Rodriguez on May 24, 2022 in a mass shooting at her school, Robb Elementary, in Uvalde, TX … It was the last week of school and she was excited about watching movies with her friends and attending the honor roll ceremony. Don’t imagine. Put yourself in my daughter’s shoes that day: Her name is called out to receive her honor roll certificate and she walks over, wearing her green converse with a heart on the right toe. She must feel so happy and proud of herself. After the ceremony, her class gets up and starts heading back to Room 112. I’m sure she and her friends are talking and showing each other their achievement certificates, not knowing the fear, pain and horror that awaits … All I have left of my daughter Maite are memories. Memories and the last pair of shoes I purchased for her, the ones she wore on that awful day – her green converse with a heart drawn on the right toe … ”
When 10-year-old Maite Rodriguez was murdered by an assault rifle in her fourth-grade classroom alongside two teachers and 18 classmates, her parents had to identify her body by those favorite sneakers. Maite’s shoes became a symbol of the devastation of that day. On July 18, supporters of the Uvalde families brought copies of this letter from Maite’s mother and lapel pins featuring Maite’s green sneakers to Washington, D.C. to distribute in the halls of Congress. At a moment when some Republican lawmakers have been proudly wearing AR-15 lapel pins to work, they hoped these pins could send a different message: as the artist who created the pins said, “Maite’s shoes are a symbol of her beauty and strength, and a reminder that real people are dying every day from gun violence, including small, innocent children. Instead of celebrating AR-15s, let’s remember all that they have the power to destroy.” Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Co., was filmed being handed this letter and pin and immediately throwing both into a trash can.
These are the forces our children are up against from some of the adults who should be entrusted to help protect them. But our children already know they deserve better. Every year students in grades K-12 enrolled in Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools summer enrichment programs take part in a National Day of Social Action highlighting a critical issue affecting children’s lives. This year, on July 19 thousands of scholars at CDF Freedom Schools sites across the country made signs and posters, attended marches and rallies, wrote letters, and met with elected officials to share their own direct and indirect experiences with gun violence, reminding adults that #YouthArentBulletproof, and asking adults to protect children, not guns. As one child’s sign read: “Protect us not guns!!! Please.”
Gun violence is the leading cause of death for children in the United States, killing students like Maite in their classrooms and killing and injuring babies, preschoolers, children and teenagers in their neighborhoods, at parks, playgrounds and shopping malls, as they ride in their cars and play in their yards, and inside their own homes. Thousands of other children and teenagers are affected because someone they love has been killed or injured by a gun. One young CDF Freedom Schools scholar, Andrew, read aloud this message to his city councilmembers: “I do not approve of gun violence because it puts a direct impact on kids, and it makes them motherless and fatherless. It scares a lot of kids. It hurts to experience this type of violence. Please help us stop all this violence.”
Another scholar wrote, “I have a vision for a safe community. I care about gun violence because people’s lives shouldn’t be cut short because others made bad decisions.”
Even while some lawmakers are ignoring pleas to protect child victims of gun violence and treating them as trash, these children are standing up for their own lives and asking adults to stand with them. The CDF Freedom Schools scholars were grateful for the lawmakers who met with them and encouraged them as they demanded change. Which side are you on?
Marian Wright Edelman is the founder and president emerita of the Children’s Defense Fund whose mission is “Leave No Child Behind.” For more information, visit https://www.childrensdefense.org.