My mother was shot to death when I was 5 years old

Faces of Courage_Lorenzo Neal meta

It was June of 1980 when my mother, Sharon Neal, was shot and killed during an incident of domestic violence at our home in Louisiana. Her assailant shot her five times: twice in the head and three times in the back. She was just 25 years old. My three brothers and I were very young when our mother was taken from us. I was only 5 years old. Over the course of my life, members of my family told me I was not present when she was killed—perhaps in an attempt to spare me some of the trauma. But … [Read more...]

My son served our country in Afghanistan, but his brother died by gun violence here at home.

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My son, Kenneth, was the center of our family.  He was the first grandchild of the family and became a role model for his younger siblings and cousins. At 31, he was the single parent of two little boys, and had another son on the way. He was responsible and considerate of the people around him.  He had a very strong sense of family and was the one who would organize a barbeque if too much time had passed between family gatherings. It was Super Bowl weekend and Kenneth was the manager at a … [Read more...]

My Baby Made the Ultimate Sacrifice to Save Her Baby’s Life

Deborah Nelson FOC_ meta image

My youngest daughter, Monique, was everything a mother could wish for: tall and beautiful, but also humorous, determined, tenacious, loyal, and compassionate. Perhaps what I loved about her most was that she operated “outside of the box.”  When Monique made up her mind to do something, she did it. And she epitomized courage. Some people believe that having courage means simply to be fearless, but, to me, courage means you accept that some things are more important than fear. That’s exactly the … [Read more...]

Tucson shooting survivor: “We must continue to be a voice for those who can no longer speak.”

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I met Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords when she was a 30-year-old state representative for a district in Tucson, Arizona. As a junior high and high school teacher, I would regularly visit the state capitol to advocate for education. While I got to know many of our state lawmakers, I formed a special bond with Gabby. She had a “constituents come first” attitude and made a tremendous effort to connect with people. Often Gabby and I would meet for coffee to discuss proposed education bills. She became … [Read more...]

My Mother Was Shot and Killed While Sitting at a Stop Sign: An Innocent Victim of the Gun Violence Crisis.

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I woke up the morning of May 26, 2016, on edge.  I could not put my finger on it, but I had the sinking feeling something really bad was going to happen that day. I went to work at a local attorney’s office and, throughout the day, I kept making mistakes, which was out of character for me. I could not concentrate, nor could I shake the feeling of impending doom. Little did I know this gut feeling of something really bad was going to happen would turn out to be the death of my Mother due … [Read more...]

I Wish Doctors Would Have Told Me to Keep Guns Away from My Sister.

Amanda Johnson and her sister Leslie.

My brother and I were seven and nine when our beloved baby sister, Leslie, was born. She was infinitely funny, with a lightning-quick wit. She was beautiful and artistic and quirky and rebellious. She was both big-hearted and tender-hearted and would give the shirt off her back for those in need. Despite all of the wonderful things Leslie portrayed to the outside world, privately, she was losing an epic battle with depression. While there were times when her mood swings were chalked up to … [Read more...]

I Was Shot Three Times in My Front Yard. I’ll Never Stop Speaking Out for Common-Sense Gun Safety.

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October 12, 2012, started out as a typical day. It was a bit chilly that morning, so I put on a sweater that I particularly liked and headed to the local arts center where I worked at the time. We held a concert as part of an exhibit, so it was a long day, but a wonderful one. I was tired when I got home so I decided to unwind in the swing hanging from a large oak tree in my front yard. It was around 11:30 pm when I decided I should get to bed – I had an early day at work the next day. Just … [Read more...]

Behind closed doors, my well-respected, successful father threatened gun violence

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You know the old saying, “You can’t judge a book by its cover?” There is perhaps no better saying that applies to my father. He came from a well-respected, wealthy family in Boston. He went to Boston College and became an engineer, and then a nuclear physicist. He designed nuclear power plants across the country and made a great living doing so. My father was brilliant, but he was also suffering from mental illness and alcoholism. And, he was armed. I was one of five children – a … [Read more...]

He Gave His Life to Save a Friend

Regina_Dunagan (1)

On December 10, 2005, I came home from work to find my son, Vincent, also known as Shu­Shu, on the couch, playing video games with my daughter, Sabrina. Shu­Shu was his nickname because when he was a baby he used to hide my shoes whenever I tried to leave the house. When he got older, he started wearing my shoes. Even after he moved out of the house, every time he came home to visit me, he would wear my house shoes. As I was getting ready to take my daughter to work that day, I asked, him, … [Read more...]

Using My Voice to Make a Change

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On May 23, 2014, I had one of those rare, reflective moments in which I thought to myself, “God, my life is really good.” I’m not the kind of person who has those kinds of thoughts very often; I don’t generally sit back and contemplate how good everything is. But that day was different. It was a Friday afternoon, heading into a three-day weekend. I had a good week at work, it was a beautiful day, and the office manager closed the office down early. My wife and I spent the afternoon together, … [Read more...]