In December 2012, the small town of Newtown, CT experienced the unspeakable tragedy of losing 20 elementary school children and six adults in one of the country’s worst mass shootings. People around the world were shocked and reached out to the citizens of Newtown in sympathy and support. Families grieved for their losses and the losses of their friends and neighbors. The families worked to come to terms with their grief and to transform that grief into something more tolerable. Several families worked to channel their grief through initiatives such as gun laws legislation or fundraising events. Today, I am writing about the work of the family of Ana Grace Marquez-Green, a beautiful six-year-old girl who was lost that December 14.
Ana’s mother, Nelba Marquez-Greene, a licensed marriage and family therapist, works at Klingberg Family Center, one of our practice partner agencies. Her father, Jimmy Greene, is a gifted musician and a professor of music at Western Connecticut State University and their family was close. Nelba and Jimmy embraced their son and struggled with the grief, and through that struggle an idea was born. That idea was about working in communities to lessen or even eliminate isolation and violence. The young man who committed this unspeakable crime was isolated. Who knows what he was thinking and feeling? Perhaps if he felt connected, felt compassion, and had a different level of support, things would have been different.
During this time of intense grief, Ana Grace’s family made a commitment to make something positive come out of the ashes of this tragedy. Ms. Marquez-Greene turned to Klingberg and began to have conversations about creating something that could address connections within communities to create connected people in the hopes of lessening violence. The Ana Grace Project was born from these conversations and now, Klingberg hosts the Center for Community and Connection as part of the Ana Grace Project. This center will provide research, public Consider that for thousands of years, human beings lived in multi-family, multi-generational groups of 40 to 50 people. When a child was born into that group, she was cared for by many people, each bringing something a little different to the parenting table.c policy work, professional development and community building focused on creating communities where all individuals are connected and experience compassion and love.
I was honored to attend the inaugural event of the Ana Grace Project, “Love Wins: A Conference Promoting Love, Community and Connection for Every Child and Family.” Around 500 people attended this conference, every one of them interested in creating true community change.
Bruce Perry, the Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy in Houston, TX, was the keynote speaker. His message was about the lack of social connections people have today, what he referred to as relational poverty. We bury ourselves in our technology, hobbies, school, and work. We live in small isolated families in single-dwelling units and can go for days at a time without experiencing any but the most superficial human interaction. So what, you might say? Consider that for thousands of years, human beings lived in multifamily, multigenerational groups of 40 to 50 people. When a child was born into that group, she was cared for by many people, each bringing something a little different to the parenting table. Today many children are born into families with just one caregiver, and an economically stressed one at that. What’s the effect on the child? For psychologically vulnerable ones, it can obviously be profound.
How have we handled this modern-day isolation? We’ve invented lots of mechanisms, some essentially designed to the deal with the fall-out. Many of us work within one of those inventions, the Child Protective System.
As Dr. Perry spoke, I thought about a recent typical night at home. My partner and I sat in the family room in separate chairs, each chilling out. He was watching TV and surfing online forums; I surfed the web and listened to music through headphones. We shared space, but only nominally. We were in our own tech cocoons, pursuing our own ends. In the moment, it felt okay. But was it really? As a species, we are hardwired to have real, physical, social connections with others of our kind. If the only thing we see or know of other people is the “content” they provide on the web, it’s not hard to see how a troubled young person might take the next step to objectifying people, to think of them only as interesting playthings no more real or significant than video game characters. This is not an excuse for an unspeakable act, but it is a reframing of a response a community can have.
The Center for Community and Connection is part of the Ana Grace Project. This is the four-pronged approach it has committed to take:
- Sponsor a consortia of experts, complete a literature review and conduct primary research to identify best practices in building community and creating interpersonal connections that prevent violence.
- Create and disseminate tools for communities to use to create networks of support, encouragement, interdependence and connection. The tools will include tip sheets, training, community building activities/events, curricula , media resources, etc.
- Professional development of mental health workers and others to focus on violence prevention, promotion of interpersonal and social connection, trauma recovery and community-building.
- Address the programming and funding needs that support community and community connection.
~ Cindy Carraway-Wilson, Director of Training