PARKLAND STRONG ISN’T MERELY A SLOGAN

David Lam

Wednesday February 14, 2018- Valentine’s Day. A day that will forever be etched in our memory.

It was a day that Parkland, our home for the past 18 years, lost its innocence. In a matter of minutes, beginning at 2:21pm, seventeen innocent souls perished.

If only we could turn back the clock. You see, Parkland isn’t like any other town. It’s a rare piece of Americana thati s disappearing across our country. It’s our few remaining bastions of suburban utopia where families gather to provide a haven for their children. It’s a community where neighbors greet each other. In fact, many of us know each other well and care genuinely for our fellow residents. We often stop and say hello, whether it’s at our local dry cleaner’s, or the Starbucks on Hillsboro Blvd or the one on Coral Ridge Drive…just blocks away from Marjory Stoneman Douglas H igh School. Tragically, it is now the infamous site where the shooting took place. When a deranged gunman opened fire on unsuspecting students and teachers that fateful day, he murdered not only seventeen lives, he destroyed our Parkland.

Or did he? On that very evening after the shooting took place, our city immediately organized a vigil at the Parkland Amphitheater, led by community rabbis and lay leaders. More than 30,000 people showed up in a matter of hours! There were news agencies from all over the world covering the event. While tears and melancholy filled the air, we began to witness the resilient spirit of our town almost immediately. Scores of students, many of whom were hunkered down in classrooms just a few short hours before, came out to console their peers. Others arrived to pay their respect and to mourn for the loss of their classmates. As if united by a divine calling, we witnessed the incredible solidarity of the students in attendance. Overnight, a movement in Parkland had begun- a movement that will have far reaching effects upon the annals of our country’s history.

I’d witnessed the aftermaths of other mass shootings: Orlando, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, even Columbine. But Parkland was different and not just because it took place in my home town. There was an undeniable feeling in the air beginning on the eve of the vigil. Somehow, we all knew that the students of Stoneman Douglas and the city of Parkland would react differently to this act of atrocity. Undoubtedly, we were not going to let this tragedy go away lightly- or ever.

The days immediately following the shooting saw our streets lined with protestors and activists, led mainly by vigilant students and angry parents. From Parkland to Coral Springs, from across America to the nation’s capital, the spirit of Parkland resonated loud and clear. While still grieving, many of us occupied ourselves with communal affairs. We called our neighbors and city officials asking how we can help. We simply wanted to do something. We all felt this was our way to heal.

But does one truly heal from a traumatic event such as this? Several weeks later, while the city of Parkland is trying to get back to normal, there is undoubtedly a dreadful cloud hanging over the residents of this once utopian town. Media reports of the shooting continue to pour in as if to serve as a perpetual reminder that our beloved hometown will now be remembered as another dark chapter of gun violence in American history. While the students of Stoneman Douglas have since returned to school, few could imagine the horrific memories that they must now confront daily walking the same corridors that were lined with the blood of their seventeen teachers and classmates killed on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2018.

Just a few weeks prior to the Stoneman Douglas tragedy, Spark of Hope launched the First Responders’ Recovery Program called the Cindi McCue Initiative which provides substance abuse treatment and mental health counseling services to our country’s finest. It was named after a police officer that took her own life in 2015. Spark of Hope wanted to give back to those whom have dedicated their careers to serve and protect us. Many first responders often put their lives on the line and witness unspeakable tragedies daily. We had no idea at the time that such a tragedy could hit so close to home. Since then, we’ve mobilized our First Responders’ campaign beyond the local communities and seek to nationalize it throughout the country, by the grace of G-d.

Spark of Hope is also an active player on the planning committee of the Broward County Mental Health Summit, alongside the Broward Sheriff’s Foundation and 2-1-1 Broward. The mission is to promote mental health awareness and education throughout South Florida. Spark of Hope’s inaugural event will take place on Wednesday September 12, 2018 featuring many supporters including FPL, Broward County VA, Broward Sheriff’s Office, Baptist Health and Wells Fargo. Additionally, Spark of Hope has set up complimentary mental health counseling services and trauma workshops, including Trauma Yoga therapy to those affected by the Parkland tragedy. We will continue to provide these services free of charge to anyone so long as there is a need. Moreover, Spark of Hope has dispatched our trained counselors and therapists to neighboring organizations such as 2-1-1 Broward, and to local schools, to provide the needed services to the many employees, volunteers and students that they so rightfully deserve. So long as Spark of Hope exists, we will endeavor to do more.

For in the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” And through unconditional acts of love, Parkland will overcome, for we are indeed Parkland Strong!

David Lam is the Executive Director of Spark of Hope, a Joint Commission accredited behavioral health treatment center in Margate, Florida. A former marine struggling with PTSD, David has made it his lifelong mission to promote awareness and acceptance for those battling mental health and substance use disorders. For more information, please visit: www.ethicaladdictiontreatment.com