Fourth of July, TW: Gun Violence
PHOTO: Thousands of people marched downtown Highland Park, IL one year after the tragic Fourth of July Shootings.
By: Stephanie Garrity, Executive Director, Rainbows for All Children
“Red, white, and blue took on a vastly different meaning for me and a lot of others on July 4, 2022. The colors of the American flag became associated with trauma, fear, and anxiety.
The Highland Park parade was an annual event for my family and me from the time I moved to Highland Park in 1992, first attending with my parents and friends, then my husband, our children and our extended family. Eventually our group increased from five people to twelve or more. Someone was assigned to set up our chairs in front of Fell’s Clothing Store (known simply as Fell’s), then Borders Books, and a myriad of other businesses that opened and closed at 595 Central Avenue in downtown Highland Park. No matter the weather, it was always an enjoyable day to connect with neighbors and friends. Most days were gorgeously sunny and blisteringly hot. Others were mistily gray and very occasionally, torrentially soaked. Regardless, everyone gathered in high spirits and neighborliness as we watched the mayor and other local dignitaries ride past. One year we saw senator Barack Obama walk by in advance of his presidential run. Local businesses like Sunset Foods, Mahoney Plumbing, Carefree Comfort, and many others would roll by in their business vehicles throwing candy and keepsakes. We always looked forward to the standbys of the klezmer band, the bagpipers, and the Jesse White Tumblers. Those were fun, happy, laughter-filled days that inexplicably were snatched away and replaced by a sinking darkness.
My family did not attend the parade in 2022. We were preparing for over twenty out of town visitors later that week, so we had designated the fourth as our preparation day. However, we, like the parade attendees, lived in panic from the moment the first shots rang out at 10:15 AM and we received the first text messages at 10:20 asking if we were safe. We turned on TV immediately, sure that there would be some coverage, at the same time hoping that there would not be, that it was all a mistake, frantically texting and calling our family or friends to see where they were and if they were secure. Once the local news coverage started, we became very aware that we were living a nightmare, one that, unfortunately, hundreds of other communities have experienced, as well. And, as everyone locked their doors, cancelled their picnics and parties, we all watched and wondered where and who was the shooter? Did we know the person?
In the days that followed, downtown Highland Park remained cordoned off, businesses closed, and news vans ever present. It was over a week before all the discarded chairs, blankets, coolers, and strollers were removed from the area. And we learned that the shooter was one of our own. Our mayor spoke about having him in her scout troop as a young boy. His mother lived in Highland Park, just blocks from the parade route, and his father resided in the neighboring city of Highwood, having divorced years earlier.
A youth who has experienced loss, is living in fear and uncertainty, and does not know what to do with those feelings, will often direct them in one of two ways—either toward themselves or toward others. Whether the loss experience for youth comes from death, divorce, deployment, deportation, incarceration, abandonment, community crisis or other situation, unresolved anger and fear can lead to more of our youth utilizing harmful responses. Children and teens are attempting to navigate a sea of complex emptions, and many have no idea how to pull themselves out of the darkness. Destructive behaviors are often symptoms of internal suffering, an expression of a tornado of feelings that can seem like a never-ending storm. To help the youth of Highland Park manage their community crisis experience, Rainbows offered support to high school personnel who were experiencing vicarious trauma as they steered families through the support services offered there; trained 17 school staff members across Districts 112 and 113; provided our community crisis peer support groups at the Park District of Highland Park.
Unresolved grief can not only cause inner turmoil but can become a massive force of destruction when directed at others. More than 68% of youth in the U.S. have experienced or will experience at least one adversity before the age of eighteen. There are some big storms out there and they are growing.
Rainbows has brought our umbrellas to hundreds of communities following natural disasters and mass casualty events, providing support to those communities as they reeled from an overwhelming amount of grief. Our community crisis program helped them process their pain, learn how to cope, express their anger in healthy ways and, eventually, move forward. We are here, always ready with our umbrellas to provide support for another community shrouded in darkness that wonders if it will ever find any light in such a storm.
It might be helpful to assume everyone we encounter has experienced some form of loss or trauma. If we imagine that each of us is weathering a storm, perhaps we can find greater empathy, compassion for one another, and extend an umbrella to our fellow humans. With every encounter there is an opportunity to treat someone with kindness and compassion, or not. We can consider how we might help shelter someone from the storm they might be in, or we can leave them standing there alone.
Rainbows for All Children’s mission is to provide support to ALL youth and their families who are grieving, in EVERY community where we are needed. That is a lot of umbrellas, as there are far too many storms, far too much grief from too many losses. If you feel helpless right now and are not sure what to do with your anger, your grief, your frustration with the many factors that played a part in this tragedy and others, reach out to us to become a volunteer group facilitator in your community. For those “difficult” youth in our lives, ask, “What are you feeling?” and take the time to listen. Receiving support during life-altering experiences has been proven to be the most effective means of preventing negative mental and physical health outcomes later in life. It takes ONE invested, engaged adult in a youth’s life to make a difference. Our children depend on us to guide and protect them. Let’s not wait until it is too late. The daily storms in the lives of our youth are growing and they need and deserve our support.
On July 2, 2023, instead of dignitaries and commercial vehicles, in place of the klezmer band and bagpipers, in lieu of the Jesse White Tumblers, thousands of Highland Park and Highwood residents, along with those of neighboring communities, gathered to walk the parade route. To remember, to honor, to gather and to grieve in community.”
Stephanie is a resident of Highland Park, IL and was interviewed on WGN for advice on dealing with the trauma of a community tragedy. To watch those interviews and more coverage on the Highland Park Parade Shooting Anniversary, go to: