When high school sophomore Trinity Gay died last fall in the crossfire of gun violence of Lexington, many of her friends could not initially talk about their grief.
Now three of them have found their voice and on Friday, took the story of how gun violence affected their lives and the story of Trinity, daughter of Olympian Tyson Gay, to a national conference in Colorado.
Shermane Cowans, Te’Osha Raglin, and Shana Berryman were classmates of Trinity Gay’s at Lexington’s Lafayette High School. They are now working with science teacher Susan McLaughlin-Jones, who taught all of the girls as freshmen, to talk about senseless gun violence.
Trinity, 15, died in October 2016 after being shot in the neck during an exchange of gunfire between two vehicles at Cook Out restaurant on South Broadway.
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Trinity’s three school friends and their former teacher were in Denver, Colo., Friday to speak at the University Council for Educational Administration conference.
Their presentation was called “Remembering Heaven’s Track Star: The Web of Community Violence, Student Voice, and Resilience.”
“The project started as a way for these girl who are close friends of Trinity’s to have a voice in how they were feeling and how it affected them,” said McLaughlin-Jones. But she said they had been affected by other deaths of their peers too and the narrative presentation they made Friday in Colorado and at Lexington meetings prior to that, reflect what they’ve been through.
In their presentation, they say they can name 20 friends and relatives who have died from gun violence, freak accidents, or suicide in the past two years. “We should bring more awareness to it,” Shermane told the Herald-Leader Friday as she prepared for her presentation.
“These girls know that their friends are dying from doing every day things and not things they necessarily brought on themselves, and if your friends are dying that quickly and that suddenly what does that say about your prospects for the next time you open the door or go eat breakfast?” said McLaughlin-Jones. “And if you are worried about that, then all of a sudden, the book report that’s due three weeks from now doesn’t exactly become a high priority.”
The girls said in their presentation that one of the things that went wrong in the aftermath of Trinity’s death is that they weren’t given time to grieve before being thrust back into school work. One of the things that went right is that even with community violence on the rise, administrators have worked so that violence has mostly been kept out of the schools.
The students hope for improved school and community responses to increased gun violence, district officials said. They are suggesting that four to five teachers at each school be trained to respond to school crises.
“I want people to know that violence is never OK and don’t expect us to ever be OK from it because the person that you are taking from us, we’re never getting back,” Te’Osha said.
“Listen to us. Be there with us. Hug us. Check back in. Ask us how we feel,” the girls said in the presentation.
“You don’t know what’s going on in people’s lives and what they go through,” Shana told the Herald-Leader. She added: “For teachers, start that bond the first day of school and love them. Then if they lose someone, you’re there for them. This can help students get their emotions out and actually talk about what they’re feeling.”
McLaughlin-Jones and the three students have also written a research paper that “explores how national and international media attention, formal and informal responses from the school, and the reactions of the larger community shaped how high school students experienced the tragic and premature death of Trinity Gay.”
“‘Shooting’ isn’t just a word to us, it’s a recurring threat. It’s a web of violence and it’s not stopping,” the girls’ research paper said.