A boy with a toothy smile and lively eyes, full of excitement for whatever is to come holds an image of peace — shattered.
A baby girl, safely secured in her car seat, her dark brown eyes looking securely at the camera as her brown, imprinted, chubby cheeks and toothless smile reflect the nostalgic innocence adults admire — gone.
Her colorful head scarf covers her hair and the wounds she met on her quest for knowledge and expression. Not rattled by the deterrence, she sits in a hospital bed battered, book in hand, continuing to quench this thirst for understanding — oppressed.
His Raiders football jersey, black and gold, sits atop his fragile frame. The bulky padding meant to shelter him from the brutal impact of force, contrasts in size with his thin arm and hand grasping a football. Number 47 stays frozen in time never to reach full potential — stunted.
Images of Martin Richard, 8-year-old, killed in the Boston bombing; Jonylah Watkins, 6-month-old, killed in Chicago; Malala Yousafzai, 15-year-old shot in the head by the Taliban for being outspoken in Afghanistan; and Joseph Walker-Hoover, 11-year-old boy who committed suicide after enduring anti-gay bullying, all brought into our homes under unfortunate circumstances.
While it’s shocking and sad, more jarring is the number of tragic losses never discussed or seen. And for what?
According to the Children’s Safety Network, in the U.S., “unintentional injuries and violence are the leading causes of death, hospitalization and disability for children ages 1-18.”
The suicide rate among adolescents has also been an issue. In 2009, suicide accounted for 36,891 deaths, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2005 and 2009, Native-American youth had the highest suicide rates.
While it is impossible to avoid all tragedies that happen to children, some loss of life is a direct result of neglect, whether due to a parent, teacher or the government.
Yet unable to make decisions of influence, youth rely heavily on invisible shrouds of protection around them. Cultural, political and other institutional decisions are often made without much regard for the impact they will have on youth.
Adults are quick to guard their ideals and accustomed reality because it is uncomfortable to consider a new way of thinking that may help future generations.
A call for stricter gun laws results in quick response — in defense of our right to bear arms.
“It’s an infringement,” some say. This resistance seems to be less about the violence inflicted on children from gun use and more about the potential change to a way of living.
In dialogues about same-sex relationships, fiery religious-backed disdain is spoken.
“It’s unnatural or a breakdown in the family,” people assert. And with the divorce rate so high, it appears same-sex relationship disdain is a deflection from more important tasks as it relates to family.
Political wars — some oil driven — spark conflict with unknowing young citizens.
The media blames terrorist. The terrorists blame the government. The government blames guns.
The media blames bullies. The bullies blame parents. The parents blame the church. The church blames homosexuals.
The media blames gang members. The gang members blame gangs. The gangs blame the government. The government blames guns.
Youth are at times the victims in this merry-go-round conversation they are rarely considered in or privy to.
When tragedies happen to children and are recognized in the media, the blame is pointed. We get angry and sad. We band together. We discuss ways to end senseless violence.
But when the smoke clears and the tragedy of that moment becomes a distant memory, we are back to our old ways of not fully taking on the best interests of youth’s overlooked voices.
No matter what the past is, no matter a parents’ gang affiliation, no matter if intolerance was acceptable in the past, and no matter this country’s history, youth are a collective responsibility.
Youth are the hope. They are the unrefined gems being molded by the adults, environment and the surrounding world in hopes of them learning — not suffering — from their forefathers’ mistakes.
The stories of Martin Richard, Jonylah Watkins, Malala Yousafzai, Joseph Walker-Hoover and any other child lost or affected by violence are painful, but even more painful is the thought that in some cultures this loss of young life is accepted as normal.
These are the ones often not visible in the public eye. Now that there is an increasing public spotlight on youth who are affected by violence, it is important to not let the concern die like a short-lived trend; otherwise, more precious gems will be lost, never to sparkle or shine as they are supposed to.