Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Notes from Susan: Teens Affected by Gun Violence


Teens Affected by Gun Violence

Art created by incarcerated teens Shine is following in our next film

By Susan MacLaury
March 26, 2018

Watching the dailies shot last summer for our newest film about juvenile justice, I see one our three incarcerated teen subjects first experience a virtual reality simulation. His headset on, holding two controllers, he’s immersed in a shootout with aliens. Suddenly his head snaps back. “I’ve been shot in the face,” he says.

Eight months later life imitates art. The film’s director, André Robert Lee, emails us to say that this teen actually was shot in the face and hand and that he and a friend were fighting for their lives.

We didn’t know if they would survive. The crew and the arts community that had nurtured him these past 8 months were devastated. They’d watched this charismatic, natural leader gain confidence and become enthusiastic while learning collaging, spray paint art, poetry, art installation, silk-screening, and helping to create a virtual jail cell.

He’s continued in the fellowship created by ART180, a local arts collective that provides training, job internships and overall support for incarcerated Richmond teen males. He has also taken a part-time job with a landscaper, and is taking online college courses. This is a kid you root for.

Our thoughts and prayers go out to him and the other teen shot, but then the inevitable question arises: What could possibly compel one person to kill another? What could leave someone feeling so hopeless that killing is an acceptable behavior? We tell kids that if they only work hard, anything is possible, that the American dream is accessible to all, but we know this isn’t always true.

I am privileged to be a documentary producer telling stories about kids struggling against odds that sometimes seem insurmountable. But efforts such as Shine Global’s are only a beginning step in truly helping those who, through no fault of their own, must cope with the consequences of gross social inequity.

These past weeks, life has imitated art again in the example of the Parkland students, who’ve refused to be labeled as victims and instead stand strong against a legislature bought and sold by the NRA. We’re watching soon-to-be-voters in real time stand strong against a legal system that has left them unprotected, showing as much resilience and generating as much hope as any subject of our films.

We are awed by their determination.

Notes from Susan: Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting

Notes from Susan: Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting


Finding Hope – Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Shooting

By Susan MacLaury
February 20, 2018

It was hard to feel hopeful this weekend, in the aftermath of yet another school shooting that killed 17 kids and caring adults. Hard not to scream while listening to legislators nod solemnly on Sunday news shows that more needs to be done to protect American children while finding ways to give themselves passes.

Harder even still reading David Leonhardt’s op ed piece in the Sunday New York Times, “Letting American Kids Die,” and learning that we have the highest child mortality rate among the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world: 6.5 thousand deaths per million vs. the average number, 3.8. This translates to 21,000 “excess deaths” of American kids each year in sharp contrast to fifty years ago when our child mortality rate was below that of these same nations. The majority of these deaths are attributable to guns, car accidents and infant mortality, all of them clearly serious problems that must be addressed.

The cause that could be addressed immediately is banning assault weapons. It seems clear that our politicians are governed by self-interest, so possibly the decision by top Republican funder, Al Hoffman, Jr., who stated: “I will not write another check unless they all support a ban on assault weapons. Enough is enough,” will have an impact on funders supporting candidates on both sides of the aisle. Let’s hope so.

I will be forever haunted by the image of 5 and 6 year old children literally cut in half in the Sandy Hook shooting and dismayed by the fact that their community’s efforts on their behalf, successful in changing Connecticut laws, didn’t make a dent nationally. As always, though, I find the greatest source of hope to be our children themselves.

This week’s shooting has galvanized the students of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School to seek public support for their mission to end gun violence. It’s resonated for students who experienced similar traumatic events at their schools who’ve come out in support of them. These are our children. Let’s join them all. Let’s give them the chance to find meaning to their experiences, to thrive, to help us become the best America we can be.

A march in Washington, DC is planned for March 24th: