Country Strong: The Shooting in Las Vegas

It is an unseasonably hot day at the end of June. I am standing in a huge stadium, waiting to see my favorite country artists take the stage. To my left and right are four of the most important people in my world, but in the crowd of over 100,000, we are barely a speck.

This was my reality a little over a year ago. Last night, my reality was much different. Last night, when I woke up at 12:52 a.m. and decided to check my phone, I saw a USA Today alert that there was a mass shooter in Las Vegas. When I woke up again at 3:01 a.m., two people were dead and 24 injured. At 4:41 a.m., 20 were dead. When I got up to go to work at 5:30, it was 50.

Only then did I make the effort to look and see what was going on, and only then did I find out that this mass murder occurred at a country concert much like one that I attended only a year ago.

And my first thought was, it would be so easy. It would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

The concert was called Route 91, a three-day festival that celebrated country music. I had thought about going to this festival with some friends, because what could possibly happen at a country concert?

So my reality continued. I went to work and taught a classroom full of fourteen year olds about Edgar Allan Poe, while the pit in my stomach gradually got larger and larger. At the same time, the death and injured toll climbed to 58 dead and over 500 wounded.

It would be so easy. To shoot down from the 32nd floor of a building into a crowded arena bellow. You wouldn’t even have to aim; you could just shoot. The exits are few and far between, so you essentially have a trapped audience.

This is now the deadliest mass shooting in recent American history, a phrase that we just used last year to describe the mass shooting at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Before that, we talked about the 2012 murder of children and teachers in Sandy Hook. Before that, we talked about the 2007 rampage at Virginia Tech. Before that, we talked about Columbine. Before that, before that, before that.

How many “before that”s is it going to take for us to learn? How many more people have to die before we can realize that if people aren’t given access to these weapons of mass destruction, then mass destruction cannot occur with the frequency we currently see?

I am all for the second amendment. I believe in the right for people to protect themselves and their loved ones by arming themselves. But arming yourself with a semi automatic weapon that can shoot 700 rounds per minute, like the weapon used last night, is not protecting yourself. It is equipping yourself to commit mass murder.

There is no doubt that the politicians are already tweaking the same speech that they have used for the past dozen years every time a mass shooting occurs. And there is no doubt that politicians on the other side of the aisle are polishing their speeches about the right to bear arms and how this is a mental health issue, not a gun issue.

Either way, can there be any doubt that this level of weaponry only has a purpose of taking human lives? Can there be any doubt that there is no practical purpose to this level of weaponry aside from absolute destruction?

No, there isn’t. I was in a place much like these people were only a year ago, where my only agenda was to have a great time and listen to my favorite music with people I loved. When we will get it through that this image needs to be protected, and the only way we can accomplish that is through stricter gun legislation?


Dear Mr. President

Dear Mr. 44th President:

Even though you are no longer our sitting president, I will call you, and will continue to call you, by your formal title. You deserve nothing less.

Mr. President, you and I have never met. In fact, you don’t even know I exist. But for some reason, I feel like I know you.

You were the first president that I ever truly knew, since you were elected when I was 12 years old. Sure, I knew of your predecessor, but I never really knew his policies or anything aside from what my parents told me.

I am writing to say thank you for the past eight years and everything you have done for this nation that I love so much.

I want to thank you for the policies that you have set forth, many of which did not even involve me, but are tremendous nonetheless. I want to thank you for declaring that love is love regardless the sexual orientation and that the right to health should not be determined based on socioeconomic status. I want to thank you for standing up for the people who risked their lives in the hopes of becoming an American someday, who crossed a border into a country of which they did not know the language. I want to thank you for protecting the right of all women to get decent medical care at a rational price, because who knows what might have happened otherwise.

I want to thank you for your strength in the face of so many things that threatened this country, the country that you and I both call home. So many things happened during your presidency that would cause anyone else to shrink down. But you didn’t. You chose to stand up taller and stronger and face the problem head on.

I want to thank you for your genuineness. For crying with us after children were shot down at a school and celebrating with us when U.S. Special Forces avenged 9/11. For being real with us, and telling us the truth, no matter how hard it was to hear.

I want to thank you for your humor. Somehow, even in the darkest of days, you would lighten the mood with a smile and a joke with Joe (a man whom I, along with the rest of the nation, truly hopes is your best friend). You were a good sport in a climate that is rampant with faceless bullies hiding behind glowing screens and fake names. You took that hate and made it obsolete with your good comedic timing and contagious laugh.

Most of all though, Mr. President, I want to thank you for the hope that you have given me. You ran a campaign on hope. Because of you, I see that change can be made and I hope for a better future for myself and my future children. I hope that the deal we have currently been dealt will not destroy all the progress that we made under your steady hand. I hope that the country that you envisioned, a country that is very similar to the one that I pray will emerge, will one day not only be a fantasy, but a reality that makes every American regardless of age, race, sex, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, cultural background and political affiliation shine.

I know that your successor is not who you want. He is not who I want, either. But I hope that President Trump does right by you, because if he succeeds, we all succeed. I hope that he sees the progress that you set in motion and continues with it, instead of pushing it back. I can’t see the future and I don’t know what it has in store, but this is what I hope.

Mr. Obama, you will forever hold a very special place in my heart and what I hope can be the future. I know that you see what America can be, and I know that you did everything you could to make it that way.

But now it is our turn. If the protests this past weekend have anything to say about the next four years, there are a very strong, very passionate group of Americans who will not take things lying down. Who are willing to fight to continue your legacy. Who see the progress that has been made and will not take regression lying down.

Mr. President, history will look at you much better than the present did. I truly believe that you will go down as one of the greatest presidents in history. I am proud to have grown up and learned from you.

Enjoy your time off. You deserve it.


A grateful American.

As I sit here

I’ve been trying to figure out my emotions for a couple of days now. Intellectually, I know what happened. I know that Trump was elected. I could tell you by how many electoral votes and what states he upset in. I could give you facts and figures about turnouts and campaign stops that Trump scheduled and Clinton skipped. I could give you all kinds of information about different events that have happened globally that pointed in the direction of a Trump presidency. But none of these things makes me believe that it happened.

I sat in the newsroom until the early hours on that Election Night, watching the results of the first Presidential Election in which I could vote roll in. I watched as states were called and I watched as my vote was counted. At that time, I was a journalist. Trump winning was just another headline that I had to write. It was just another prompt for a front page story, an editorial, a column. Just another day in the office.

But it wasn’t just another day. I have spent the past two days trying to process what happened, yet somehow I can’t. I try to put on a brave face. I talk strictly in facts and figures to my friends and family, trying to seem impartial. I make a Spotify playlist. I try to encourage unity.

When I try to think of the next four years, I have a really hard time picturing what will happen. I know how my government works and political science, so I know that the president has a lot less power than people think he does. But I still don’t know what is going to happen.

Trump was elected because democracy was doing its job. I respect democracy, so I have to respect the result. And I respect the Office of the President of the United States, but I cannot respect the man that will hold it as of January 20, 2017.

So, how can I separate the man from the office? Is it possible?

I have never had to deal with grief before, but for some reason I feel like I am going through the five stages of it. I am still in disbelief. I have been angry. Angry at people who voted for Trump. Angry at my age group for not having a higher turnout. Angry at the people who voted for a third party, even though that is there constitutional right.

 On Election Night, I tried to bargain with God. I asked Him to please stop Trump from winning. I asked Him to stop a result when I should have been asking Him for peace.

Right now, I feel like I am in the depression stage. As I sit and listen to my new Spotify playlist here in the dark, it feels like there is a raincloud in my chest. There is no thunder or lightening; I am no longer angry. However, it is the type of raincloud that turns everything gray. It’s a weird sensation for me, for someone who always tries to look on the bright side, to feel like everything has lost color.

I know that was super melodramatic, but it’s the only way I can describe how I feel.

I don’t even know for what I am grieving. I was not “all in” on Clinton, so I’m not mourning her political career. I’m not mourning America, because the America I know has not died. So what am I grieving for? The America that existed under President Obama? The laughter of some friends who are taking this particularly hard, and can’t seem to see past it? Or the time where the prejudices that appears to live in a large part of Americans was hidden?

However, going through these steps means that I am working my way towards acceptance. I don’t know when I will get there, but I know I will get there eventually. And while I may not like or respect our new president-elect, I will do everything in my power to help this country along, whether that means standing by him or gritting my teeth and baring it for four years.

I won’t lie and say that I wish this was all a dream. But I need to wake up and face the reality that God has given me. History will look back on these next four years, and someday my children will ask me what it was like. Time goes on, and only time will tell what just happened. I will be okay, just as the nation will be okay. I just need time to grieve.

Checking my Privilege

I grew up in a small town in Northeast Ohio where 98.1 percent of the population is white. The most diversity I have had up until college was the one African American student I graduated with in my class of almost 400. My university’s track record is not much better.

I have lived my life in a little white bubble. However, I had the absolute privilege of joining the African American Alliance and Social Justice groups from my university as they marched from East Cleveland to the Lake Erie lakeshore to protest police brutality.  This “All in Again” march and rally changed the way that I view diversity and my approach to the Black Lives Matter movement.The route I took to the meeting point took me down Superior Avenue. As the numbers of the crossroads neared and entered the fifties, I began to feel afraid. I was in the area where most of the news reports of shootings and thefts took place, the area that my father warns me not to go to. An area that was predominantly African American. I was in a car, with people in cars beside me going about their daily business, and yet I was terrified to stop at a red light.

Why in the world was I scared? The people around me did not care about me anymore than they cared about the other random people driving their cars. They probably didn’t even notice I was there.

When in my life did I learn that I was to be afraid of being a white woman alone in a predominately black area? Who taught me?

The fear I felt seems ludicrous to me now, but in the moment it didn’t seem all that silly. Once I met up with the other protestors, all of a sudden  I felt safe. Why did I feel safe with this group of predominantly black people, yet when I was enclosed in my car, I was terrified?

As we began to march towards the picturesque Cleveland skyline, the protestors started chanting.

“We need peace in our streets,” they chanted.

I have never known a place where I did not feel safe walking at any time during the day.

“No justice, no peace,” they chanted.

I have never known a place where I did not feel like justice was in place. I have never been in a situation where I felt that I did not get a fair punishment.

“Hey, Hey. Ho, Ho. These killer cops have got to go,” they chanted.

Have I ever felt threatened by the police in my hometown?

“One hundred and thirty-seven  shots? How do you justify that?” they chanted.

This chant was referring to the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were killed by Cleveland Police officers in 2012 after leading police on a nighttime car chase. 137 shots were fired by six police officers that night. If I, being blonde-haired, blue-eyed and light skinned, and had been evading police that night, would they have fired 137 shots? Would they have even fired one?

I talked to others who were protesting. Some of the people that I talked to had lost friends to black on black violence or had been victims themselves of racial profiling. They all told me how important this was for them to march, because they believed that their mission was something worth fighting for. They believed that a change was needed. 

As we marched, horns honked from the street in support. A man standing outside of a store gave us fist bumps. A woman, walking down Euclid Avenue and minding her own business, raised up her fist in the air, reminiscent of a black power pose, silently advocating for our chants.

Being a part of this movement made me question my own white privilege and my own racial biases. Why did I feel scared driving in East Cleveland? Would I ever see some of the things that these people have seen, like a friend dying or being pulled over simply because of the color of their skin? Would a cop ever kill me with 137 bullets fired into my car because I am white?

Before the march, I was in support of the Black Lives Matter movement simply because I believed that what they were saying was true. It made sense to me that people of all colors, creeds and races should be treated equally. However, I did not know the extent to which I was partaking in the very behavior that they were trying to change.

I avoid eye contact and shy away when I am alone and see a black person walking towards me. I don’t know why I do it, but I do. I don’t always stop my friends or family from using the n-word. I fail constantly in acting on my own philosophies and what I tell others to do when it comes to race.

I am flawed, but I will get better. I will do more to address my own racial biases and tendencies. I will work harder to be an ally instead of part of the problem. It won’t be easy, but I believe that I can do it. I will work hard. 

Finals, Stress, and Support

The end of the year is always hard. The couple of weeks leading up to finals week is full of projects, presentations and papers, and there is really nothing we can do about it besides work long hours and drink lots of coffee.

Personally, many of my hours in these past couple of weeks have been spent in the library or in my school’s newsroom, pushing through paper after paper just to keep myself sane.

School has been hard, and it seems like the general trend amongst students is the “grin and bear it” technique. So, that’s what I tried to do. I kept my head down and tried not to complain too much about the mountains of work that kept me awake at night or the number of papers I had to do.

After all, everyone is busy. I am no different, so why should I complain?

That was until this past Sunday. I was in a presentation for one of the groups I am involved in on campus, and the presentation lasted four hours. I knew that this presentation was coming and I knew how long it was, so I planned my work around it.

During the meeting, all I was thinking about was what I had to do that night. I tried to be present, and at times I was, but the projects and papers and presentations kept running through my head.

I tore out of the meeting and ran to my car. I sped down the road, eager to get back to my room and get to work.

I got to where I needed to go, but for some reason I just couldn’t bring myself to get out and get to work. I broke down.

I started to cry heaving, heavy sobs that racked my body from top to bottom. The papers and presentations and projects ran together in a cacophony of words and deadlines in my head, over and over until it was just too much.

Turns out grinning and bearing it isn’t exactly my forte.

 I felt embarrassed at my sobbing outburst and the stress became too much. I simply could not take it anymore.

So I called my parents.

As college students, we are encouraged to be as independent as possible. And we do a good job of it. We make choices everyday, like getting up and going to class or going out on weekends, that our parents may or may not disagree with.

We are supposed to relish our independence. It is what separates us from children. We are big, bad adults on our way to conquer the world. Who needs mom and dad?

Well, at that point in time, I did.

The second my mother answered the phone she new something was wrong. So, as I was sitting in my car, I told her everything that I had been holding in over the past three weeks. I told her about the stress and anxiety and the projects and the presentations. I told her that I wanted to come home and sleep in my own bed and hug my dog.

I broke down.

Here’s the thing about breaking down. It allows you to build something back up again that might be even better than the original. Something stronger and more beautiful will soon stand in the place of something that was broken.

Sometimes you just need to have emotions; you just need to cry. And that is totally okay. It is unhealthy to grin and bear it for too long. It makes you sick and sad and stressed.

I broke down last week, but that does not make me weak. It does not mean that I cannot handle independence. It does not mean that I should move back home. It just means that I am human and sometimes I can’t handle it all.

I hope that one day my daughter or son has the courage to call me when they are feeling stressed or sad. I hope that they are strong enough to admit that they cannot be strong anymore.

If you are feeling stressed, and I know that most of you are, take a breath. If you feel the need to cry, do. If you feel the need to call your parents, do.

You can do this.

The Woman I Want to Be

I am not the woman that you can see in old movies from the 50s and 60s. I am also not the woman that the feminist in me says I should strive to be. Let me explain.

I will never be a housewife. When I picture my life in ten or fifteen years, I cannot see a woman who stays home, cooks, cleans, and takes care of the children. I don’t see a woman who greets her husband when he gets home from work with a kiss on the cheek and a casserole on the table.

It’s totally okay if that is the future you want. I just don’t see myself being that kind of woman.

For one, I only enjoy cooking on rare occasions, and I would be an absolutely awful housekeeper, simply because I am one of the messiest and most cluttered people you could ever meet. I want to have children someday, but I don’t think I would be fulfilled by making them my full-time job.

I also don’t see a future where I am a high-powered, influential woman. This is the type of person that my inner feminist pushes me to be. I should be a woman working in New York City who makes just as much money as her husband and sees the kids when she gets home from work. I should wear power suits and be an eloquent speaker, working my way up the corporate ladder and one day running the company.

Again, it is great if you see yourself this way in the future, but I can’t.

One problem with these two scenarios is that, according to a lot of people, women can only be these two things. These are the two spheres that woman are so often thrown into. You are either a housewife, content to stay at home and take care of the kids, or you are a powerhouse stepping on others with your stiletto heel.

Why isn’t there a middle ground?

A couple years back, my mother and I had a serious conversation. At this time, I wanted to be a journalist living in Washington D.C. As I was discussing this with my mother, she suddenly got very sullen, and asked me the most adult question that I had ever been asked.

“Carly, what about having a family?”

This question made me stop in my tracks. And at the time, I was perfectly comfortable stating that I wanted a career, and if that meant not having a family, then I was okay with it.

As I got older and the future became clearer, I realized that I wasn’t okay with that.

The only future I saw had a husband and kids in it. But I don’t want to be a stay at home mom and have my family define me.

So what do I do?

Society tells me to do one or the other, but neither are perfect options. If I am a stay at home mom, I am lazy and unemployed. If I have kids and a job too, then I am neglectful of my children and my husband. If I don’t have kids and instead devote myself to a career, then I am power hungry.

There is no way to win in this scenario.

The thing is, men don’t usually get this type of scrutiny when it comes to their relationship with their occupation and their families. If they work full time, then they are providers. If they chose to not have kids, then they are focusing on their careers. The only time they receive a little bit of flack is in the case of stay at home dads, but that small group of men is receiving more praise than hate as of late.

I don’t care what you do with your lives. In my opinion, as long as you are happy, that is all I can ask for.

It took me a bit to figure out what my priorities are in life. I started to picture what my life would look like in several different scenarios, and none of them felt perfect.

I cannot picture my future without kids. I can, however, picture my life without being a journalist. So this is how I have decided to live my life.

We need to figure out how to stop labeling women in general, but particularly when it comes to what they want to do with their lives. It is 2016, for goodness sake, yet we are still defining a woman in regards to her familial relationships.

I’ll never be fulfilled being a housewife and I cannot see my future without children, and that is okay. I will figure something out that will make me happy. But if society cannot be content with my version of happiness and only sees me in a way that is bad, how can I win?

Dear Mr. Trump

Today, I am scared.

Today, the future that I once looked towards in a rose-colored lens turned dark and uncertain.

Today, Donald Trump effectively secured the Republican nomination.

I am not a Republican and I am not a Democrat, so this is not one of those politically-charged posts where I rant on and on about how much better my candidate is than the other. In fact, I don’t truly support anyone anymore.

But you, Mr. Trump, are the only one that makes me truly fearful for the future.

Mr. Trump,  for months now I have watched you bully your way to the top. I have watched you stomp on other nationalities, genders, races, and thoughts in order to give yourself power. I have watched you degrade other human beings to the level of insects with your words and actions.

I have read everything. I have read everything in support of you and in opposition of you. I have watched every debate and primary, and I have listened to all of your speeches. Now it is my turn to speak.

I am tired of you saying nothing. I am tired of you saying words that have no basis or background or reasoning, simply because they sound decent and elicit applause.

You and I have blatantly different points of view, but that is not my point. You are a bully, and I do not like bullies very much.

I love America. I sing the national anthem and pray for our troops and hold my hand over my heart when I say the pledge of allegiance.

You do not represent the America that I love.

You represent the ugliest, most profane part of America. You build walls instead of bridges and spew hate when you should be spreading love. You focus on all the bad in the world and thrive in it instead of searching for the good and working towards a better place. You are so ignorant of anything that could not possibly involve you that you ignore the people that you are stepping on.

I firmly believe that you started this campaign as a publicity stunt, and once you got a taste of power, it consumed you. It filled you like a drug and began to dictate your actions. And now that you have a taste of it, you can’t stop.

The America I love would have never even thought of you as a president. But the America I love is not the one that is voting you. You have fed off of the fear and hate that has been boiling in our country. You harnessed it and nourished it like a prized pig until you had a cult surrounding you, screaming for you and fighting in your name.

You advocate violence and hatred, two things that the America I love would never stand for.

I usually see the best in people, but I am having a really hard time seeing the best in you.

I don’t know how to stop you, but trust me when I say this:

I damn sure am going to try.