Swaying in the wind on the corner of Bellevue Avenue and Valley Road stand 37 t-shirts staked into the ground on the lawn in front of The Episcopal Church of St. James of Upper Montclair – a grave reminder of the tragic school shootings that have taken the lives of innocent children and teachers in recent years.
The 17 shirts on the left side of the lawn serve as a memorial for the lives lost on Feb. 14, 2018 during the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fl.
On the right side of the lawn are 20 youth-sized t-shirts to remember the 20 children, between the ages of six and seven, who were killed in the tragic Sandy Hook School shooting on Dec. 14, 2012. The adult-sized t-shirt identifying the memorial honors the lives of the six adults who also lost their lives in the massacre.
“It’s no longer enough to just say, ‘Our thoughts are with you,’ one needs to take action,” said The Rev. Audrey Hasselbrook, assistant rector of St. James Episcopal Church, in regards to the excess of school shootings that have occurred in recent years.
There have been 186 shootings on school campuses in the United States since the Sandy Hook shooting, according to the LA Times, and at least 14 school shootings in 2018 alone, CNN reported.
“We wanted to do something because we’re located on the corner of two fairly busy streets and use the front lawn in a way to help remember that we have to take a stand and do our best so that this does not happen again,” Hasselbrook said.
The t-shirt “Memorial to the Lost” is just the latest expansion the church has made as part of its effort to encourage the community to use their vote and voice to help put a stop to gun violence in schools.
St. James Episcopal Church will host a rally as part of the national March for Our Lives event on Saturday, March 24 at 5 p.m.
“I think Parkland was a tipping point,” said Hasselbrook. “I’ve worked in urban communities and I am well aware that for children in some neighborhoods it’s been very difficult for a long time to get school in a safe way and now we realize this needs to stop. It just needs to stop.”
Mayor Robert Jackson and the church’s Rector, Reverend Melissa Hall, will speak at the rally, alongside other anticipated student speakers from the local high schools and Montclair State University.
In addition, the church also plans to have representatives from the Mental Health Association of Essex and Morris Counties to provide materials in effort to help people deal with the aftermath of the trauma and provide them with tools and tactics on how to explain the tragedies to children so that they’re not frightened to go to school.
“Then of course (the material from the mental health association) can help people recognize the signs when someone does suffer from a mental illness, that’s an important step,” Hasselbrook said.
The rally will also provide the opportunity to make sure local members of the community are registered to vote and have information on how to contact their local legislature in order to have their voices heard.
“We’re going to ask people to sign our banners and keep those displayed through the beginning of April as a reminder to the community of what we’re here for and what we stand for as a community,” Hasselbrook said.
There will also be a book at the t-shirt memorial for people to write notes of support that will be sent to the community of Parkland to aid in their healing process.
“What we’re talking about is keeping people safe, that’s the point of this gathering, what do we do as a nation to keep our children, in particular, safe,” Hasselbrook said.
Click here to register for the free public event: https://event.marchforourlives.com/event/march-our-lives-events/9586/signup/?source=ggnp_mfl_b&akid=&zip