A few weeks ago I received an e-mail from a wonderful organization in Newtown, Connecticut, Sandy Hook Promise. This organization is dedicated to providing immediate and long-term assistance to those impacted by the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as advocating mental health, family, school, and community responses to violence. What I find special about Sandy Hook Promise is that the organization is starting from the inside out - they begin locally advocating for family members and their community, and including local family and community members on their board, and are now moving their vision outward to the national stage.
According to the e-mail, in partnership with OPI, a nail beauty product brand (and a personal favorite, if you haven't been keeping score), they have launched a limited-edition nail color, Sandy Hook Green. Any donor who gives $26 or more through Sandy Hook Promise will receive a bottle of this special polish, a green to match Sandy Hook Elementary's school color.
Someone suggested to me that they thought that equating the twenty-six lives lost that day with incentive in the form of free nail polish was short-sighted. But I don't think that's fair. Certainly, there is no way to compare each life lost that day to a symbolic $1/victim donation, but these tragedies are so unbelievably painful, that whatever allows you to wrap your head around the enormity of the event - short of hurting anyone else - is appropriate. If you think that this funding level is short-sighted, add zeroes to the $26 when you write your check.
To get OPI to manufacture 10,000 bottles of a special nail polish color to honor those who lost their lives is a creative way to get others involved in promoting Sandy Hook Promise's mission of advocating for mental health programs to better understand the underlying issues related to violence. This nail polish was born out of parents whose children were present in the school on that day. Their initiatives are vital and help them deal with the pain of understanding why this happened on their terms and on their own timeline.
One of the most impressive things to me about Sandy Hook Promise is that they have resisted becoming a "poster child" for gun violence. They have not allowed outsiders to come in and use the organization as a way to advocate for gun control on their own terms. Instead they are turning inward to their community and assessing what their own people need, and letting families in Newtown connect with a mission that works for them.
Sandy Hook Promise is bringing those families to the table, and inviting everyone to take part in a nonpartisan conversation. Rather than antagonizing gun owners, they welcome them to the conversation and engage them as part of the solution rather than the source of the problem. They are taking a holistic approach to reducing gun violence, and are tackling the root issues associated with the problem, rather than simply lobbying for gun control. In trying to revolutionize the way gun violence is approached, they are in fact looking towards innovations in mental health, which is unbelievably difficult to do - namely because of stigma, outdated interventions, underfunding, access to care, and beyond.
It will take time for the community of Newtown to go through its vital recovery process and to heal itself. When a person is still going through and recovering from trauma, he or she is in no position to be expected to go out into the world and counsel others going through similar trauma. It just does not work: you need backup and time for your wounds to heal before you can properly attend to others' pain. It is therefore our responsibility as a nation to paint our nails Sandy Hook Green and return to our own communities as ambassadors of Sandy Hook Promise's message. And, not just for those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School, but also for Oklahoma City, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech as well as all those who have experienced events of mass violence. My staff, my daughter, and I will gladly take off our OPI Purple With A Purpose in order to sport Sandy Hook Green nails, and invite you all to come to the table and join the conversation. Let's talk, let's lead, and most importantly let's serve with green nails and a big heart.