The Loop Newspaper - Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

By Mel White 

They make a difference (and we need them to)

On the Bright Side


September 28, 2019

Mel White

A couple of issues ago I wrote about a wake-up call I had in the early 1980s when I went to pick up some little kids for a Big Sister outing. The kids, who lived in a motel in Marin County with their single mom, had the door barricaded and the curtains drawn because someone had been shot outside their room the night before.

At the time I could not imagine having that kind of childhood as my own had been what I thought was normal and, well, not scary at all. I was proud to be a part of an organization like Big Sisters, one that helped kids with all sorts of different experiences than I (or most of the other staff and counselors) had ever imagined.

There are plenty of other organizations out there who do the same – I've also worked a number of years with the Girl Scouts and the YMCA, youth and school sports and music, city parks and recreation programs, Bible camps and Church camps, and so on. We need those kinds of organizations – and people willing to work in and for them – because it seems to get tougher and tougher to be a kid in America these days.

I had another sort of wake-up call one April day in 1999, in Denver, Colorado. I was at an afternoon movie; when it was over I walked out into the lobby and saw a bunch of somber looking people staring at a TV that flashed the "breaking news" banner. I stood and watched with them as kids were being herded out of Columbine High School, just a few miles south of where I was standing, with their hands up, escorted by armed police.

I went home and watched hours, that turned into days, of reporting on TV about the Columbine Massacre, as it was called. I cried a lot. I knew people who lived in Littleton, who went to that school (I covered prep sports for a local newspaper at the time). I drove down there the next day and stood and grieved with crowds of people on the school campus. I cried some more. I went back the next day, just to be there with other people who were hurting and wondering how a thing like that could ever happen.

Then I wrote a column about my feelings, mostly dwelling on the idea that this was such a horrific act, such a waste of young lives, such a traumatic event for a city – in fact for a whole suburban area, a state, a nation – that surly we must all be waking up to the idea that we cannot tolerate this sort of senseless violence. That we could do something, that we must do something, so that this sort of thing would never happen again.

Fast forward to this year, 2019, 20 years after Columbine, and my mind is still reeling about that experience while it is also being overloaded with so many other senseless mass shootings, in more schools, in parks, in places of worship, in shopping malls. I can't even keep track any more of how many there have been.

And I just cannot imagine what it must be like to be a kid today (or even to be raising kids today). In my day we had bombing drills in school as we worried that the Russians might bomb us, and that was scary enough. But Russia was another country. We never once had to worry that the kid sitting in the desk next to us might bring in a bomb, or an assault rifle and start shooting our friends.

Kids today are learning "active shooter" drills in school, and according to many parents who are raising kids right now, it is heartbreaking to hear their children talking about being afraid of being shot in a classroom (or a closet, or a library, or a cafeteria). I'm ashamed of being an adult who has let this happen when we have had so many wake-up calls over the past 20 years.

Thank goodness there are still organizations out there trying to make safe places for kids, offering sports and music and dance and other activities to take kids' minds off of fearing for their lives on a daily basis. And thanks especially to the kids themselves who are standing up and demanding that we do something to help them.

We need those organizations, and we need those surviving kids who are speaking up. We really, really need to listen to them. We know these kids will make a difference in the future, and hopefully we can help them make a difference right now. Because it is way past time that we really, really need to get serious about making our country a safe place for kids to learn and grow ... and to become ready to be our best leaders in the future.

© Copyright 2019. Mel White, local writer/photographer and co-owner of the Treasure Trove, has been looking on the bright side for various publications since 1996; she welcomes your comments at


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