On my phone is an old picture I saved of my daughter in third grade holding hands with her friend Harmony.
Ever see a girl doing a cartwheel on the playground? That was Harmony. She had the light. I’m sure everybody knows a child like her. Just born happy. Harmony was murdered last night.
In fourth grade, we took a school field trip to the cemetery to find the grave of our school district’s founder. His father was a slave owner and his mother was a slave and, though born into slavery he learned to read and write.
This former slave, along with Republican congressmen lobbied a public education system. As legend tells and the records show, it was a close vote (722-718). This was 1887; most whites at the time sent their kids to private schools and didn’t want to pay taxes that would support public education. But the measure passed and the city council appointed a former slave to the school board, making him one of the first black school board members in the country.
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A few weeks before the field trip to his grave, I had been appointed to the same school board a 125 years later. I felt great pride in being a part of his tradition. And here was my daughter holding hands with Harmony over a great man’s last resting place. I remember wondering if his spirit was looking down on the girls and seeing the goodness of his creation.
I was young and naive with no idea just how little local control school boards have. Virtually everything of importance is predetermined by the state and the feds. How many hours to go to school, what days to start, what subjects are taught, how they are taught, what books to buy. But what bothered me most was that our state legislators – against the advice of the sheriffs association and our state school board – passed a law that forced all public schools to allow handguns. They gave schools no choice. Allow handguns on all school parking lots or lose state funding. A few months later someone’s handgun was stolen from their glove box at a high school. I often wonder where that gun is now.
Currently, we have legislators pushing to force guns into the classroom whether school districts want them or not. Maybe some school districts need the flexibility to be armed? I have hunted a good bit, and I would hate to see a man or woman being marked for life if he or she absent-mindedly left an unloaded rifle or shotgun in the trunk. But more loaded handguns in all our schools? Last month a Parkland chemistry teacher, undoubtedly still traumatized by the shootings, left his loaded Glock in a public bathroom where a mentally ill homeless man found it and fired the weapon.
Statistics tell us sad stories. Domestic violence is five times more likely to turn deadly when a gun is in the house. Suicide rates too, are far higher when a gun is in the home. If you’re reading this now and have suffered from depression, I hope you think twice about keeping a gun in the house.
The man who pulled the trigger and murdered Harmony, her mother and her brother was a former law-abiding citizen with no prior record. Her death shocked my 13-year-old daughter so much she fell to the ground crying. Harmony was a talented athlete and a brilliant math student and born with everything she needed to lead a successful life. The life of a doctor, nurse or teacher should have been her future.
When I look now at the photo of Harmony and my daughter at the grave of our school district’s founder all I see is the biggest failure a society can have. And I hope he can’t see it.
Matt Buys lives in Asheville, N.C.