The Aiken Community Stands Strong Against Violence
Students at Aiken College and Career High School, tucked away in the heart of College Hill have become all too familiar with the devastation of several tragic deaths spurred by gun violence throughout the past five years. Numerous teenagers have come to know the heartbreak of losing their family members and friends. Sandi Horine, Aiken Guidance Counselor, and her Youth Leadership Seminar Student Leadership Group were inspired by the Service Challenge Project and were eager to take a stand against gun violence in their immediate community. Sandi was impressed with their passion and dedication to the project and the enthusiasm they showed in rallying together. The group was committed to making an impact in preventing tragedy from striking any more of their peers. Three years ago, Aiken lost five students to gun violence and the year before, several students and alumni. Just one week after plans for this project were finalized, Aiken lost a 14-year-old to gun fire. Several weeks later, another 14-year-old, who was not an Aiken student but a close friend to many, was tragically killed. The week before the event, an Aiken senior was shot but survived with the support of friends and family. Needless to say, this issue is one that hits too close to home for many students.
Aiken’s service challenge project, featured on the FOX 19 evening news, kicked off a week-long event on Tuesday, February 11th with two, all-school assemblies reaching 700 students targeting gang awareness and addressing preventative action. Sandi’s group hosted a follow-up during lunch to provide students the opportunity to learn about additional resources and to confide in peers about their personal experience. In addition, Wednesday’s lunch period included a discussion that focused on methods to cope with loss by encouraging students to open up through sharing how gun violence has affected them.
Jamie Bryant, who works with the Cincinnati Human Relations Committee at City Hall partnered with Aiken and presented at Wednesday’s rally. In addition, representatives from “Mothers of Murdered Victims” attended the event to share their personal stories of loss and mourning. Ms. Horine was struck by the impressive turnout and courage of those who were so willing to open up by facing a very difficult and personal issue that is often considered “the elephant in the room” in hopes of making a difference. Students were eager to equip themselves through education on this very prevalent issue so they too are prepared to go out into their neighborhoods, and make an impact both as individuals and as a school. Although Aiken emphasizes a strong focus on academics and excelling students to the next level, Ms. Horine says the school holds the safety and comfort of the students in the highest regard.
To bring the week to a close, the school opened its doors to students, families and community members for the “Night-at-the-Mic Rally”. The attendees – including two local Cincinnati Police Officers, the “Mothers of Murdered Victims” members and countless students – shared their personal testimonies of gun violence and stories of loved ones who have lost their lives. The thought-provoking discussion and personal accounts were incredibly moving and shed a serious light on an issue that continues to pose a threat to many Cincinnati communities. Following the rally, attendees scribed the names of friends and family members who have passed away on hundreds of purple and white balloons and released them into the sky. The sun was shining and the group fell silent as the sea of purple and white floated up over the hill and soared through College Hill. It was a beautiful symbol of hope and honorable tribute to those who have lost their lives to gun violence.
UP, UP AND AWAY!
Great Job, Aiken!