Tampa is a Blend
Incorporated in 1855, Tampa was first called “Tampa Town.” It was nicknamed Guava City and grew out of the army outpost of Fort Brook. Italian, Green, and Spanish immigrants had clumped and grown. Much like the sponges they harvested, processed, and sold. Many of the original families stayed and multiplied. Other settlers moved in. Cubans from the south, carpetbaggers from the north. Ybor City became the “Hand Rolled Cigar” capital of the US. Aboom economy grew the Tampa Bay Area to four million in 2017. Tampa is still a good place to live.
Bad Things Happen
On February 14, 17 people were shot at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. In the aftermath of the shooting, demands were made for greater safety. Planned protests and spontaneous gatherings sprung up around the country. The protests targeted the government, school authorities, the NRA, and the gun lobby.
The almost universal consensus about young shooters is that they are loners. Socially awkward men from broken or unstable homes. They endure bullying, mockery, and failed social connections at school. They have an unhealthy interest in violence, weapons, and death. Nikolas, the shooter at the Parkland school, fit that profile to a ’T.”
Alive in You
“Alive in You” is a one week service camp for high school students. The camp gives them a real life experience helping others. The students do everything from building to painting to landscaping. They volunteer at food pantries, homeless shelters, and social service organizations. They also work with children at low income day care centers. This summer experience changes lives. Six camps, scattered through the east, attract up to 400 students at each venue. Tampa was the first. Knoxville TN, Columbia SC, Milwaukee WI, and St Louis MO followed soon after.
Heather and Jim Weir, Camp Directors at Alive in You
At Bishop McLaughlin High School, just north of Tampa, I had been tasked by “Alive in You” with encouraging and giving hope to 200 students. I had something important to say that nobody was saying.
It was a Message I had Never Given Before
I did not know how well they would receive my message. Students in Tampa might not hear what I wanted to say. Here is what I said:
“Students in school should not have to worry about being shot at. I know some people think more government regulations and faculty awareness will keep you safe. They want more armed security guards and more metal detectors.
Students are the Biggest Part of the Solution
What I believe is that you, as the students, are the biggest part of the solution. I would ask you, could have been a different outcome in Parkland? If ten years ago, when Nikolas Cruz was nine years old, a fellow student defended rather than bullying him. If eight years ago, someone invited him to join their team or club or youth group. If four years ago, he was invited to a camp like this one, where compassion and service was encouraged rather than anger and hate.
Helping out your peers
Students are more changed by other students than people in authority. I believe that if you look around your school today, there are loners and outcasts. Isolated, disaffected students that you can connect with and make a difference. Are you willing to be part of the solution? You can reach out and possibly save a life, maybe even dozens of lives.
My talk ended. Perspiration trickled down the back of my neck. I looked hopefully into the eyes of the students on the front row. Then the enthusiastic applause begin. The students got it! They understood and were willing to reach out and make a difference.
Unknown to me, the principal, vice principal, head coach, and two other teachers had been in the audience. They walked onto the stage and surrounded my SandArt table. The principal introduced herself and the others, shook my hand, and said, “Thank you. That talk and your sand stories were so timely, so on target. We all needed to hear that.”
Tampa was a great place to visit. The airport is well designed and the drive to the school was along tree lined streets with beautiful homes. More than anything else, it was a place where a small group of high school students had served. They had demonstrated compassion, and committed themselves to make a difference in the lives of their fellow students.