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Lay Down Your Sword and Gun - Stephanie Renée
Jan 26, 2014

Is America honestly ready to work for peace?

Despite the snow and the cold, I had a great Saturday morning as a panelist for the Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists' Media Access Workshop. Our charge? Explain to the public the best way to engage with various forms of media in order to get stories told and have more positive light shone on the work that happens in our community. It was a capacity crowd, full of eager and familiar faces, ready to learn and grow. And I was proud to have been there to play a part in the dialogue. Until I stepped down from the director's chair, made my way back to my seat in the audience, and checked in on social media to find that a shooting had taken place at the Mall at Columbia. About 25 miles outside of DC, in an area littered with my friends and associates.

By the time you read this, the word will have spread that the young man involved in this latest act of public violence in America was named Darion Marcus Aguilar, a 19 year-old from College Park Maryland. He was armed not only with a gun, but also a backpack-style bomb that he thankfully didn't choose to ignite. Before turning the gun on himself, Aguilar took the lives of two 20-somethings who worked at the mall. Retail is often thankless, low-paying and high-stress, but it provides work experience and some form of income for thousands. People who are usually stuggling to pay tuition, rent, get some kind of economic footing before moving on to the next rung of their career path. And on a Saturday morning in America, there were likely thousands of area residents who dragged themselves out of bed to secure some needed household item or sales bargain. On their mind may have been their bank accounts, their forthcoming paychecks, their shopping lists, their days' agenda...but likely nothing involving a teenage shooter opening fire.

Initial reports have said that the source of Aguilar's discontent was domestic in nature. I'm not sure what that means. I'm not sure what kind of emotional distress provokes a 19 year-old to take his own life, or turn a gun on friends, coworkers or random targets. But I do know that I am tired of death being such a ready solution for people with access to the means to carry it out. I am exhausted by the idea of not just clutching my purse tighter in public spaces, but feeling obligated to note the movements and actions of random people in my path, out of concern that they could instantly carry out violence on the masses. I cannot function trying to fulfill the requirements of my job and achieve my personal goals with my head full of dread and worry about the likelihood that I'll be assaulted at any hour of the day, in any place I travel. Who can live like that?

I will not walk this earth as a potential victim. I will not be forced into seclusion, a prisoner of paranoia about the might-bes of our violent, racist society. But I am acutely aware that my backpack-and-granola aura, clouds-and-rainbows disposition, and optimistic way of viewing and moving in the world are not a pervasive reailty. It's not just about the easy access to weapons. It's that we're a society that prizes power over surrender. We'd rather hurt others, out of our own hurt, than heal and move on. So it is profoundly important for us, as a collective, to take the weapons out of the equation. Some people are too hurt to make their way towards healing when the gun or the bomb-making materials are so opportune. Far more opportune than mental health services, in most instances. We must lay down the weapons, in order to leave our hands and hearts more open for true overcoming to have room to move in. So that Saturday mornings remain a time for productive gatherings of eager minds, or for getting a great deal on needed goods, than pain, terror and confusion.

Here is last week's playlist:

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In 2009 WURD launched a highly acclaimed symposium series called WURD Speaks, which gathers local, national and internationally renowned experts to share insights on issues ranging from health care, education and economic development to arts and culture and civic engagement.