On Monday, we celebrate the birth of our esteemed Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King whose life, like the 26 children, teachers and school administrators in Newtown, CT, was cut short by senseless gun violence. Had Dr. King lived, he would have celebrated his 84th birthday on January 15th. I often wonder what he would think about the fast paced, highly technological 21st century world in which we live. I wonder how he would be spending his time, what issues he would speak out about. Would he think that his vision of the "Beloved Community" is a relevant concept today? I believe that Dr. King would be speaking out about the horrible impact of violence and guns in our society. He would be appalled that the issue of banning military style assault weapons is even being debated in this country.
I, like many Americans, commend President Obama for his courageous leadership on this issue. The list of steps that President Obama outlined in his news conference on January 16th are sensible and reasonable, and we must do all we can to get them all implemented.
The recent shootings at the Sandy Hook Elementary School have pushed the debate over gun control onto center stage and renewed the concern over safety in our schools. When conversing with Wheelock professors, staff and students over the past few weeks on what actions can move our country to create safer neighborhoods, I envision a world in which children can feel safe and thrive.
Imagine how our country would be different if:
• We had an accessible and effective mental health system for citizens of all ages.
• Instead of turning the NRA's call for armed guards into reality, all schools were safe havens where children and adults could enjoy learning without the fear of armed guards and guns in the school building.
• Neighborhoods were safe places where children and families could enjoy their community without fear and stress from gun violence.
Recently, I joined 254 other college presidents in a pledge to lead campus discussions in the spring semester on how best to address gun violence in America. This pledge supports President Obama's effort to create a national conversation on mass killing, gun violence and mental health in our country and urges him to pay particular attention to measures that would restrict access to assault weapons. At Wheelock, we will conclude our discussion session with a tribute to the teachers at Sandy Hook and all teachers for their commitment and passion to educating young children.
In addition to the many excellent teacher preparation programs at our colleges and universities, programs focusing on Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy are critical in preparing students to be tomorrow's advocates for young people and their families and to improve the safety of our communities. Wheelock's Juvenile Justice and Youth Advocacy programs are based on the belief that we can create strong advocates and leaders who create and deliver much needed, effective prevention and response strategies for youth at risk -- both inside and outside of the juvenile justice system. We need more programs aimed at prevention.
President Obama often quotes Dr. King's statement that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Now is the time for each of us to demonstrate the truth of this statement, not by our words but by our actions. We can do something about guns, especially keeping guns from dangerous people. It's time for all of us to take action to protect our students, kids and our communities. I urge you to join this call by advocating on behalf of sensible gun control.