"Since Parkland": Writing the Stories of Youth Victims of Gun Violence

"Since Parkland" website image. Via Ellie Klibaner-Schiff.

I remember the overwhelming hopelessness that engulfed me when I heard about the school shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018. Yet, less than one percent of kids who die by gun violence die in school shootings. The media barely covers the other 99 percent. I learned this firsthand by writing profiles for "Since Parkland," a project chronicling the lives of children killed by guns during the year following Parkland. By working on "Since Parkland," I discovered the power of voice and storytelling in driving change.

As I began my research into the life of Germaine McCoy for "Since Parkland," I found the cold facts of his death: “One person was killed in a shooting, Saturday afternoon, at Cambridge Apartments on Jackson Street in Lamar.” But the few emotionless news articles lacked personality; I didn’t understand who Germaine was during his short eighteen years of life. So, I turned to social media. I tried typing different keywords into Facebook: “Germaine McCoy,” “Germaine McCoy South Carolina,” “Germaine McCoy shooting,” yet nothing new appeared. But I persisted, and eventually found his sister. I then learned what the news had missed: Germaine was actually Jermaine. The news reports I’d read had misspelled Jermaine’s name.

Through his family and friends, I uncovered the passionate, caring, and complex side of Jermaine. But another challenge awaited me: How could I condense Jermaine’s life into a 100-word profile? Encapsulating a life in 100 words forced me to dig deep as I tried to connect to a person I’d never met. I focused on aspects of Jermaine’s life that his family and friends held close—he loved the Philadelphia Eagles and the color blue. He would listen to his sister pour her heart out while sitting outside their apartment, which is, tragically, where he was shot. I wrote and rewrote until I produced something that I hope Jermaine would appreciate.

Jermaine McCoy was one of over 1,200 kids lost that year to the chronic gun violence ailing America. Through "Since Parkland," I utilized my passion for writing to give voices to the voiceless. Turning complex, nuanced emotions into defined, concrete words helped me distill the disturbing events occurring around me. I came to understand the magnitude of a crisis, but also the power of efforts combating it. While transforming statistics into stories, my initial hopelessness blossomed into hope and determination.

As a reporter for "Since Parkland," I honed my creative skills to construct stories where none had been recorded. For each, I dove into the victim’s life, learning through family and friends what the victim held dear. I researched for hours in order to find a final detail that would shed light on who they had been. For Beverly McBride, that detail was her purple hair, which matched her dad’s. Her hair color provided a window into who she was. I pieced together fragments to craft a multi-faceted reflection. I wrote and rewrote, until I felt confident that my profile told the story of the life it needed to share.

When I assemble a story, I create a vehicle to connect with the world, to express myself, or to tell others’ stories. Writing motivates me to explore and learn as much as I can about myself and my surroundings so that I can become a better thinker and storyteller.

I aspire to create a bridge between the past and the future with my writing—to capture the present moment in an array of words that somehow manage to articulate both the heaviness of the past and the bliss of not yet knowing what the future holds. With "Since Parkland," I tried to celebrate lives that were and acknowledge the failures that ended them, while, at the same time, capturing tangible lessons that have the potential to make the world a brighter place.

I write to communicate. I write to express myself. I write to educate. I write to learn. I write to think. Writing allows me to create with a special level of independence and creativity, relying on abstract emotion and instinct to signal completion. Writing for "Since Parkland," I continued to craft my words until I felt that the person I was writing about would appreciate and be satisfied by what I had created. As I write, I anticipate a feeling, a moment when I know my reader will be able to envision the image in my head. And when that moment arrives, and I finally feel that my words are contributing in some way to the greater world, the frustrating hours of searching for the right word or detail seem to suddenly be worth it. I have a product that I can read and understand, no longer just thoughts and ideas swirling around my head—something that didn’t exist when my Google Doc was blank.

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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Beautifully done. Looking forward to reading Since Parkland.

How to cite this page

Klibaner-Schiff, Ellie. ""Since Parkland": Writing the Stories of Youth Victims of Gun Violence." 10 August 2020. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 29, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/parkland-writing-stories-youth-victims-gun-violence>.

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