Editor’s Note: For the past three years I have photographed the annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration at Uihlein Hall of the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts. I have seen young students share their passion for social justice on stage, then return again the following year with more wisdom and determination. It was encouraging to watch these students, with their whole future ahead of them, and wonder about the trajectory of their lives. Sandra Parks was one such student. She participated in the 2016-17 event, and won third place for her essay. After reviewing the many photographs I took that day, I could not find an image of her. I could not document all the students, and not everyone was presented on stage. But she was there, and in the company of her peers. Her voice was one of the many who shared their hearts, expressing the sorrow of their souls, while holding onto hope for the future. On November 19, the voice of Sandra Parks fell silent. The words from her essay remain. They are a monument to her life, but a reflection of the complicity from a white society that will quickly forget her as it did the previous 11 child deaths from gun violence this year.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the family of the 13-year-old girl who was shot and killed in her home last night. It is a tragedy that another innocent child’s life has been cut short over nothing. While I am both hurt and angry about this senseless death, the family needs the love and support of the community right now. I encourage acts of comfort, kindness, and generosity on their behalf. We as a community have to do better. We have to put an end to this reckless violence and to the shootings that end up hurting innocent people and children.” – Alderman Russell Stamper II

The 12th child hоmіcіdе in Milwaukee from gun violence in 2018 was Sandra Parks, an 8th grader who was kіIIed in her home near Way of the Cross Church on November 19. The Keefe Avenue Elementary School student was struck by one of several stray bullets while she relaxed in her bedroom.

In the 33rd annual city-wide MLK Day writing contest, Parks placed third among 6th graders. Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) released the essay she had written about gun violence before her death, her own words highlighting the tragedy that would ultimately take her young life.

“The world has lost a young lady who had a talent for writing and making her friends laugh. She was well-liked by her teachers and classmates. She was loved by her family,” said MPS in its statement, expressing grief with the family of Sandra Parks.

Milwaukee Police say a 26-year-old Milwaukee man has been taken into custody as a person of interest. Her essay, “Our Truth,” spoke to the “state of chaos” that surrounded the world she lived in, the result of senseless gun violence and the victimized children.

Our Truth

Sometimes, I sit back and I have to escape from what I see and hear every day. I put my headphones on and let the music take me away. I move to the beat and try to think about life and what everything means. When I do; I come to the same conclusion… we are in a state of chaos. In the city in which I live, I hear and see examples of chaos almost everyday. Little children are victims of senseless gun violence. There is too much black on black crime. As an African-American, that makes me feel depressed. Many people have Lost faith in America and its ability to be a living example of Dr. King’s dream!

The truth is faith and hope in what people can do, has been lost in the poor choices we make. We shall overcome has been lost in the lie of who we have become! So now, the real truth is, we need to rewrite our story so that faith and hope for a better tomorrow, is not only within us, but we believe it and we put it into actions.

Our first truth is that we must start caring about each other. We need to be empathetic and try to walk in each other’s shoes. We shall overcome when we eliminate the negative and nasty comments people make about each other. We shall overcome, when we love ourselves and the people around us. Then, we become our brothers keeper.

Our second truth is that we need to have purpose. We are the future generation, therefore we must have an education to make a positive difference in the world. We are the future leaders, but if we don’t have an education, we will accomplish nothing. We will overcome, when we use our education to make the world a better place. We will become the next President, law enforcement officers, teachers, doctors, lawyers, and law makers. We cannot continue to put the responsibility on other people. It is our responsibility as future leaders!

We must not allow the lies of violence, racism, and prejudice to be our truth. The truth begins with us. Instead of passing each other like ships in the night, we must fight until our truths stretch to the ends of the world.

© Photo

Lee Matz and Joe Brusky