HARTFORD, Connecticut, U.S.A. – Nelba Márquez-Greene, a mother whose six-year-old daughter was murdered in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, wants young people to stay connected and involved in their communities to prevent further gun violence.
At the Peace in Connecticut conference on nonviolence at Trinity College Thursday, Márquez-Greene emphasized the importance of lasting relationships, saying it is imperative for children “to stay connected to others,” especially those they love and who love them.
Honest relationships are much more helpful to surviving family and friends than overpromising and fake offers, she said, adding that the Sandy Hook families in Newtown, Connecticut got both.
“Authentic relationships heal people,” she said.
Further, Márquez-Greene said young people should get involved in community service projects because it teaches them compassion. According to Márquez-Greene, by connecting and working on projects, children grow to be kinder to one another.
For youth who are in trouble, “keep trying until you find the light,” Márquez-Greene said. “Ask for help when you need it.”
It’s important for parents of those kids, she said, to “keep the light on” and listen to their children.
“We need to pay attention when our children are vulnerable,” she said, especially when they are willing to share their feelings.
Márquez-Greene, who is a social worker, spoke from a professional and personal point of view about the grief of parents and their children when dealing with trauma.
“Every parent is going to have their own individual response,” she said. “One size fits all doesn’t even work for t-shirts, let alone therapy.”
Márquez-Greene’s own experience acts as an example.
She didn’t get to choose what happened the day the 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, killed her beloved daughter, 19 other children, six educators, his own mother and himself.
But Márquez-Greene said, “At the end of the day, I do get to choose my response.”
Márquez-Greene now heads the Ana Grace Project, named in her daughter’s memory. Its motto is “Promoting love, community and connection for every child and family.”
While she was grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world after the Sandy Hook shooting, Márquez-Greene said she wants every victim’s family, not just those who live in wealthy suburbs like Newtown, to get that kind of attention.
“Kindness and compassion are basic human rights that everyone deserves,” Márquez-Greene said.
Mugdha Gurram, Alan Burkholder and Matthew Albrecht are Reporters for Youth Journalism International.