Have Courage After Tragedy and Find Your Voice

Alissa Parker | Feb 7, 2017

It had only been a month since my daughter Emilie had been taken from this world at the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut and I couldn’t sleep. Not sleeping was nothing new, but the feeling and thoughts I was having were. I was remembering the moments right after I heard there was a shooting. I had jumped in the car and was speeding toward the school to get my daughter. I couldn't believe there had been an actual shooting at an elementary school. In that moment, my mind had drifted back to a conversation my husband Robbie and I had as we walked the halls of Emilie’s elementary school together just a few months earlier. We were pointing out all the school’s safety flaws to each other. It had been such a casual conversation. We said it so matter-of-factly, dismissing any real danger. And there I was, in the car, racing to that same school in terror, wondering why I had never said anything.

As I rolled around in bed that night, unable to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about those safety flaws over and over again. I was thinking about them because I knew most schools had the same problems. I wondered, was there something I could do? And I knew there was.

 
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The idea scared me. I was a grieving mother who could barely get out of bed. But maybe, just maybe, if I used my voice and spoke out this time instead of dismissing my concern, I could make a difference. I could help prevent another tragedy like this from happening. This sleepless night was the beginning of my journey to becoming an advocate for our children.

How to start wasn’t quite as clear as my desire to start. But, I knew I could take one small step. The next morning I called Michele Gay, mother of Josephine Gay who was also a victim at Sandy Hook.

 
 

I knew that Michele felt the same way I did and she immediately took to the idea of figuring out a way to catalyze change. We would create a website that provided communities across the country will tools improve their schools now. We wanted to move the conversations away from what wasn’t possible and focus on the attainable.

 
 

The work wasn’t easy. We had to do a lot of research, networking, and calls. As a stay at home mom who had been out of the work force for a long time, it was really difficult in the beginning for me to manage. I had to learn to balance my work and to set realistic expectations on what I could and couldn’t do. Luckily, Michele and I had both made an agreement that our families always came first. We were truly a team. On my bad days, she would step in for me. On her bad days, I would do the same for her. It wasn’t always easy and the results were not immediate. But, because I had promised myself and God that I would never silence my concerns again, we didn’t give up. If I could help protect even one school by sharing my story, it was worth it.

 
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Entering into this world of advocacy has introduced me to so many women, normal women just like me and you, doing extraordinary work to protect families and children. Seeing this makes me really wonder, why are we all so reluctant to share our ideas and our passions? President Thomas S Monson once said, “We will all face fear, experience ridicule, and meet opposition. Let us—all of us—have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval" ("The Call For Courage," April 2004 general conference).

 
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I am not always perfect and have had to make adjustments many times along the way to make sure that my priorities are where they need to be. But, I am proud of the work Michele and I have been able to accomplish together. I really believe that every one of us can be advocates for righteousness. We all have the ability to make a difference. Whether you feel called to advocate for our children, our communities or even yourself…have courage. Stand for righteousness without fear of ridicule and know that God is smiling down upon you. By doing this we can truly arise and live unto the Lord.