March 20, 2018

Do Not Let This Momentum be so Easily Dismissed

By Bryan Padilla

Kentucky is my home. That’s why I’m here today. That’s why I must say—with a heavy heart—that the bottom line is that many of us, as students, parents, and educators, feel that our schools are not safe.

Right now, we are seeing yet another wave of momentum behind the voices who remind us over and over again that the gaps in our schools’ safety are unacceptable. With that, I urge you: do not let this momentum be so easily dismissed.

The fact that we are convening today is a testament to the fact that we realize that we need change. Furthermore, we are here because we know that this change requires that we are well informed on what we wish to fix. That’s just the first step. What comes next is the hard part.

We cannot rely solely on complex bureaucracies and government to immediately solve our school safety concerns. We cannot rely on the media to voice our traumatized and yearning voices and expect change to occur. We want policy changes to be the solution to everything, but, realistically, it’s going to be up to each and every one of us, as individuals, to take the lessons we learn here today back to our communities to make changes on an immediate and tangible level. In this, I must say to everyone: the solution to our sorrows does not lie on either end of the spectrum. Kentucky, its people and its culture, are unique. We should not be forced to give up any elements of our culture, our morals, or our beliefs to settle the school safety issue.

The people speaking here today will unveil the complexity of the school safety issue, but an aspect I wanted to touch on is the fact that school shootings are a male-dominated issue. I’ve researched and compiled data on the sex, age, and race of shooters in over 200 incidents involving firearms at countless institutions across the United States since 2000. In categorizing the sex of each shooter, I kept typing the same thing: male. In fact, 95% of the shooters I studied were male. That’s an issue.

It’s an issue addressed by a man named Dr. Warren Farrell who spoke at a TEDx event about what he defined as “The Boy Crisis.” He gave his TED Talk in 2015, over two years ago, where he said that, even in 2015, we’d been having an average of one school shooting a week since Sandy Hook. In his talk, Dr. Farrell chronicles the male experience in 21st-century American society. Most importantly, he maintains that as much as we want to make school shooters out to be monsters, the fact they are human holds a variety of factors that we can learn from.

Dr. Farrell outlines a few very important causes that have contributed to this so called “Boy Crisis,” but his first outlined cause, and the cause I will elaborate on, is what he calls “dad-deprived boys.” Dr. Farrell says, “Boys who hurt, hurt us.” He cites research that supports the fact that dad-deprived boys are less empathic, less assertive, have poorer academic performance, are more homicidal, are more likely to be in prison, and are much more likely to be suicidal, especially in comparison to their female counterparts under the same circumstances.

As a kid who has not had his father in his life for more than four years now, I can tell you that what he says sounds about right. I used to be that quiet kid in elementary and middle school who the teachers worried about. I used to not have friends. I used to struggle tremendously in my social life. I was getting C’s and D’s in middle school. Now, here I am. I’ve been accepted to MIT, and I’ve learned to acquire the critical life skills I lacked due to the inexplicable stresses put upon me during some of the most crucial years of my development. If it were not for my mother, my educators, my mentors, and my community in general, it’s safe to stay that I would not have made it down this path in my life where I am speaking here today.

There are many boys in shoes akin to mine who have not dealt with dad-deprivation as I have. Tragically, one of those boys was a friend of mine. William Hicks, my friend, died by a self-inflicted gunshot to the head on May 22nd, 2017. William grew up without a father, and the effects of such a fact were expressed in many aspects of his life that led to his death. In talking to William’s mother about today, she agreed. She said, “if there was more help in the school systems, maybe my boy would have had a chance. It seemed like everywhere I turned for help, they turned us down.” Know that William is not the only one. Know that the unfortunate truth is that the unconditional love and support I received in my hardship is not commonplace. We have many misconstrued boys and young men battling their own psyches while growing up in a confusing, continuously changing, and seemingly cold society, especially in high school. As we learned recently, even heartwarming and gregarious small-town America – like the one I live in in Northern Kentucky – is no exception to this. This issue is an intertwinement of many complex factors, and the solution lies in effective and proper policy and budgeting that can effectively address them all. We know that times are tough, but our presence here today should showcase that there are many, even students, who are here and who wish to work alongside our policymakers in fixing Kentucky – our home – and playing a role in changing our country for the better. We seek your leadership, persistence, and cooperation in spearheading not only policy, but efforts in our communities to make our schools safe and our communities healthier and happier once again.

Nothing will change unless we all – elected officials, school administrators, parents, teachers, and most definitely students – play an informed role in owning and being the change that we seek.

Rest in peace William Hicks, 18-years-young. Thank you.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Bryan Padilla

Bryan Padilla

Bryan is a former member of KSVT. He graduated from Connor High School in 2018 and a student at MIT.