Gun violence survivor carries a lesson for us all

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Recently, a pickup basketball game of two-on-two started up in the fenced-in playground of the Child of Mine Youth Center located on the southeast side of Washington, D.C.

Tyrek Marquez of New Britain, Conn., had just finished volunteering at the center as part of a week of “Acts of Kindness” in remembrance of the attacks at Newtown. “All net,” gloated the 12-year-old after nailing his third 3-pointer. For many 12-year-olds, this would be no big deal. But, for a boy who has use of only one arm and walks with a limp as a result of being shot in the head just five years ago at a parade in Hartford, his jump shot is nothing short of miraculous.

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During the week preceding the one-year anniversary of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, we each had the opportunity to participate in events with Tyrek in Connecticut and Washington, D.C. Our time with Tyrek taught us more than he could ever imagine about courage.

He showed us how acts of kindness can transform our country to one of peace, hope and love. He reminded us that gun violence is not just about gun deaths but also the countless wounded survivors, and the toll on them, their families and communities. Tyrek inspired us to work harder and with persistence to make sure that Newtown is not a moment in time but a movement that will change America. 

Our week with Tyrek began on Monday at the YWCA in New Britain. Struggling to turn the page with his one working arm, Tyrek took turns reading Harold and the Purple Crayon to 4- and 5-year-olds in a Head Start program. The classic children’s book tells the story of a boy who uses a purple crayon to draw the brighter world he imagines. But that day in New Britain, Tyrek used his courage to bring about the kinder world we all envision.

The power of his example quickly took effect beyond that classroom. His act of kindness was reported in the local paper, which was read by a special education teacher who had attended the Sandy Hook school and who then challenged her students and staff to define “kindness” and put their words into action.

More acts of kindness soon followed from individuals, businesses and groups in New Britain and nearby towns.

We reconnected with Tyrek as he joined Americans from Newtown; Hartford, Conn.; Chicago; Aurora, Colo.; Virginia Tech University and elsewhere to perform “Acts of Kindness” in Washington and to speak at the National Cathedral vigil in honor of all gun violence victims. With three other young men who were either shot or lost a family member to gun violence, including Carlos Soto, the younger brother of Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto, Tyrek spoke bravely and eloquently of the costs of gun violence and his hope for the future.

As he spoke, it was not lost on us that Tyrek could have been one of the precious lives taken by gun violence. As parents spoke of the children they lost, it was not lost on us that Tyrek’s mom could have been at the podium remembering her little boy.

Miraculously, Tyrek survived the shooting. He still cannot tie his own shoes. He refuses to walk in front of a mirror to avoid seeing what the bullet did to him, but Tyrek works hard. He endured intensive physical therapy, and continues to strive to overcome the paralysis on the left side of his body.

Tyrek is one boy in one Connecticut city forced to struggle with the impact of gun violence. His experience should be reason enough for action, let alone the countless others wounded by gun violence. The 26 innocents murdered at Newtown should be reason for action. The 30,000 Americans killed by guns every year should be reason for action. 

We continue to call on every member of Congress to find not just the courage to act but the sense to protect our children — to enact the commonsense reforms like enhanced background checks supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans.

We owe it to Tyrek and his friends to heed their call to action and to make their hope for peace a reality.

When asked at the vigil what gives him hope, Tyrek answered, “People here right now that are able to help and are here because they want to help and they want to stop the gun violence that’s been going on for years and years.” 

Because of Tyrek and the countless others from across the country who are part of the growing Newtown movement, we will persist in the fight for change however long it takes. Thank you, Tyrek for giving us hope.

Blumenthal is the senior senator from Connecticut, serving since 2011. He sits on the Armed Services; the Commerce, Science and Transportation; the Judiciary; and the Veterans Affairs committees. Murphy is the junior senator from Connecticut, serving since 2013. He sits on the Foreign Relations; and the Health Education, Labor and Pensions committees. Esty has represented Connecticut’s 5th Congressional District since 2013, and sits on the Science, Space and Technology and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. She is also a member of the House Gun Violence Protection Task Force. Frank is a Danbury, Conn., attorney and an anti-gun violence activist.