Press Release After the Day of National Concern, 1997

On Thursday, November 6, 1997, in schools across America, young people made a strong collective statement renouncing the violent use of guns. Students from New York, Bridgeport, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Miami, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Phoenix, Oakland, Richmond, the District of Columbia, and hundreds of communities in between signed a simple and voluntary Pledge: "I promise that I will never carry a gun to school; I will never use a gun to settle a dispute; and I will use my influence with my friends to keep them from using guns to settle disputes."

The Pledge is followed by an acknowledgment of the power of this decision: "My individual choices and actions, when multiplied by those of young people throughout the country, will make a difference. Together, by honoring this pledge, we can reverse the violence and grow up in safety."

The initiative grew out of a chance meeting in a hallway in the Hart Senate Office Building between then-Senator Bill Bradley and Mary Lewis Grow, who initiated the idea. In 1996, Senator Bradley, who serves as Honorary Chair of the observance, introduced a bipartisan Senate Resolution calling for a Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence and a national distribution, on that day, of the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence.

In 1997, Senators Murray (D-WA) and Kempthorne (R-ID) sponsored the Senate Resolution, which, like the previous year's, passed by unanimous consent.

The White House issued a proclamation calling for November 6 to be observed as a Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence.

Among places highlighting Thursday's observance:

  • Washington State: In Washington State, more than 120 schools made a commitment to participation in the Student Pledge. On Thursday, Seattle's Superintendent of Schools, John Stanford, led a Peace March, with student representatives coming to Seattle from all over the state.

  • Richmond, Virginia: In Richmond, the Mayor and a number of agencies and organizations came together to coordinate their activities. The Richmond Education Association donated books appropriate to the theme to each of the public schools and to all the public libraries in the city. Various schools had speakers and assemblies and the Public Libraries displayed the donated books and related materials. All of the City's schools distributed the Pledge, and the Richmond Housing Authority offered pledge signing opportunities in the Housing Communities. Initiative for the City-wide observance came from Richmond's Youth Services Commission.

  • Chicago: From the Chicago Police Department, an Investigator who worked on the observance said that in twenty-two years of Police work, she had rarely been part of something that had been more wonderful. The radio music station listened to by most Chicago Teens donated more than an hour of air time to a call-in show that was beamed into schools and throughout the city. During that time, students heard from Mayor Richard Daley, who led the students in oral recitation of the Pledge Against Gun Violence (which they had also recieved in written form), from both of Illinois' U.S. Senators: Carol Mosely-Braun and Richard Durbin, from Superintendent of Schools Paul Valaas, Police Superintendent Matt Rodriguez, and from two students who talked movingly about their own reasons for wanting their peers to turn away from gun violence. One had lost a brother to gunfire. The program ended with former police officer Mike Robbins, founder of H.E.L.P. for Survivors. Robbins, shot a number of times in the line of duty, talked about his conversion from someone who had always looked on punishment and prosecution as the answer to crime and violence to someone who wanted to stress prevention and getting young people to take responsibility for their individual decisions. Robbins was honored, along with Jim Brady, at the last Democratic National Convention. In 1996, Chicago distributed the Pledge in all its public schools. In 1997, they extended the observance to include parochial and private schools.

  • District of Columbia: In Washington, DC Mayor Barry began the District schools' observance of the Day of National Concern with his 9:00 a.m. appearance at a local school, Elliot Junior High School, for an assembly program. Middle schools and high schools will call the total numbers of their students signing the Pledge to Student Council Leaders, who relayed the totals to the Chief Executive Officer of the District's schools, General Julius Becton.

  • Milwaukee: In Milwaukee, the Chief of Police attended one of various assemblies held around the city, and listened to the essays and letters students had written him with their thoughts about how to reverse gun violence. Then he replied to the students, taking their thoughts into his response. An African story-teller, Olusegun Sijuwade, told traditional stories about non-violence and led discussions with students about gun violence and the significance of their personal decisions.

  • In Birmingham, Alabama, more than 10,000 students signed the pledge.

  • Santa Clara County, California: The Pledge launched county-wide distribution of the Student Pledge Against Gun Violence in all thirty-three of the County's districts.

  • Oakland, California: Oakland chose to distribute the Student Pledge to its students a week early so that Pledge Day could be a celebration of its 53,000 students who signed the pledge.

  • In Seattle, School Superintendent John Stanford led a Peace March attended by students from all over the state. More than 120 schools from around the state participated in the Day's events.

  • In Connecticut, the State's Attorney General appeared at a middle school to lead sudents through the Pledge and to show his support for the national day.

Planning for the 1998 Day of National Concern about Young People and Gun Violence has represented the best in public-private partnerships. While hundreds of volunteers around the country have mobilized to do most of the organizing, they have been assisted by a number of public officials, notably Governor Gary Locke of Washington State, Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton of Minneapolis, Minnesota's Attorney General Skip Humphrey, Seattle's Superintendent of Schools, John Stanford and a number of state commissioners of education.

Individuals and groups from around the country have urged annual repetitions of the Day of Concern. As Dr. Enid Margolies of the New York City Public Schools has said: "It's too important not to make this an annual event. If we want to change behavior, we need repetition and reinforcement. Young people often think that their individual decisions don't make any difference. But by offering students the chance to take the Pledge Against Gun Violence together by the millions, we may help them realize the power of one."