Content warning: gun violence
Tree of Life. Parkland. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Pulse nightclub. You hear the victims’ names. You see images on the news. You attend prevention rallies. However, tragic shootings are still happening over and over again, plaguing our nation, and taking the lives of the innocent.
Theta Phi Alpha member Kathryn Fleisher has set out to work toward an end to this epidemic.
Kathryn is the voice and driving force behind Not My Generation (NMG), a summit for young adults against gun violence.
“Not My Generation is my personal response to the Tree of Life shooting,” Kathryn said.
The shooting occurred at Tree of Life (also known as L’Simcha Congregation), a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, 2018. Eleven people were killed and seven were injured. As a Jewish student at the University of Pittsburgh, Kathryn was profoundly impacted by the tragedy. Having been engaged in Jewish gun violence prevention work for a number of years, the outpouring of support for the Jewish community in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting opened Kathryn’s eyes.
“I saw what diverse groups of people with different backgrounds, different belief systems, and different visions for the future can do when they come together,” Kathryn said.
After the Tree of Life shooting, the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh raised a quarter of a million dollars, in a matter of days, to donate to the Jewish community to help with burial costs, medical bills, and more. “We relied on our neighbors,” Kathryn said.
A few days after the Tree of Life shooting, Kathryn organized a rally for common sense gun reform called “Unite Against Hate.” She also worked with the University of Pittsburgh to host a university-wide vigil entitled “Stronger than Hate.” Kathryn says that students still walk around campus displaying the t-shirts with “Stronger than Hate” printed on the front that the university had made for the event.
“That was the extent of it, though,” Kathryn said. “Tragedy brought our community closer together and we are now stronger because of it, but where is that energy when we’re doing proactive work instead of reacting to a tragedy? Where is that radical love for one another when an assault comes in the form of hateful words instead of flying bullets?”
Kathryn found herself frustrated. There was a lot of talk, but no action to back it up. That is why she decided to do something about it.
Turning Tragedy into Power
“I created Not My Generation as a means to actualize the message that heartbroken, scared, and determined 20-somethings have been shouting from the rooftops: an assault against one marginalized community is an assault against all of us,” Kathryn said. “If we want to prove that love is truly stronger than hate, then we must create practical mechanisms and build tangible coalitions to be able to react as one powerful community to any act of hatred or violence waged against a marginalized community.”
Kathryn chose to turn mourning into action, sorrow into stories, and tragedy into power. After months of tireless planning, hours spent cold-calling organizations, and weeks convincing activists to take the idea seriously, Not My Generation was born.
The Not My Generation summit will take place in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 8-10, 2019. The goal of the event is to hold a coalition-based gun violence prevention strategy conference for young adults, ages 18-25. The event will provide attendees with the opportunity to connect, learn, plan, ask questions, strategize, build trust, establish accountability, and most importantly, inspire one another. Not My Generation encourages young people to utilize their brainpower, expertise, and energy to build a network of gun violence prevention activists spanning across the country. By building diverse coalitions, young adults can actively work toward creating unity within the wider gun violence prevention movement.
When participants leave this event, they will walk away having gained a strong network of like-minded individuals, connections with mentors from various gun violence prevention organizations, the resources they need to combat gun violence in their local communities, and a year-long inter-community action plan for local gun violence prevention and advocacy.
The registration and application process for the NMG summit is unique. To ensure that the event is intersectional, it is required that event attendee applicants apply as a coalition of 4-5 people – each representing a sub-community within a larger geographic community.
Kathryn’s journey and connection to gun violence prevention started back when she was in 8th grade. She attended a program hosted by the North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. NFTY is a North American organization that prioritizes community building, Jewish identity exploration, youth empowerment, and social justice. Through her involvement with NFTY, Kathryn’s eyes were opened to social justice issues around the world. Years later, Kathryn was elected to serve as a Regional President and then as the North American President of NFTY and took on leadership of the movement’s gun violence prevention campaign. The year she started college, the Parkland shooting occurred. On February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killing seventeen students and staff members and injuring seventeen others. The Reform Jewish community lost a young student, Alyssa Alhadef, during the shooting.
“I thought the Parkland shooting would be the closest I ever got to a mass shooting,” Kathryn said, “Then, the Tree of Life shooting occurred less than a mile and a half from my apartment and my world was turned upside down. I was forced to adopt gun violence prevention advocacy as something I would do day in and day out to prevent any other community from having to go through what my community went through.”
In the near future, Kathryn is focusing on making the upcoming Not My Generation summit a success. In the distant future, Kathryn hopes that Not My Generation achieves its goal of reducing gun violence in the US.
“I hope my generation of Americans is the last generation to endure the realities of gun violence. My generation will not leave gun violence as an unsolved issue for the next generation.” Kathryn said.
Kathryn’s Supportive Sisters
Through her gun violence prevention advocacy work, Theta Phi Alpha has been Kathryn’s rock. Her sisters have been her uplifting community.
“When I spend my days listening to stories of bullets destroying lives, I often find myself grasping for a hand to help pull me out of the darkness,” Kathryn said. “Theta Phi is that hand.”
Kathryn’s sisters are always there for her, cheering her on, and letting her know that the work she’s doing matters.
“My Jewish sisters were an especially vital support system for me in the immediate aftermath of the Tree of Life shooting, whether it was crying together at a chapter meeting or standing in the front row at rallies,” Kathryn said. “My big – Carolyn Brodie – has even traveled out of the state with me to attend events and training and to hear me speak. Having her around gives me the encouragement I need to keep going. She supports me like no one else.”
Kathryn’s Advocacy Efforts
In addition to Not My Generation, Kathryn has led and organized various gun prevention events and rallies around the nation. She spoke at a March For Our Lives pre-rally in DC; organized and spoke at “Stronger than Hate” (University of Pittsburgh sponsored rally); organized and spoke at “Unite Against Hate”, a rally held a few days after the Tree of Life shooting; hosted a Jewish student leader roundtable with David Hogg and Matt Deitsch (from March for our Lives); and developed and led a gun violence prevention training seminar at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism’s Consultation on Conscience.
“It’s going to take all of us working together to combat gun violence. We need different people with different beliefs working towards the same end goal,” Kathryn said.
Gun violence impacts us all in one way or another and you, too, can get involved at any level and in any capacity. If you have the means to make a donation, you can do so here: https://notmygenerationgvp.org/read-me. If you are interested in attending the Not My Generation summit, getting involved, or hosting a gun violence prevention event in your community, reach out to Kathryn at firstname.lastname@example.org.