Selena Borek, ’17, with her graduation cap that was initialed by her students.

In the wake of the mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., Selena Borek, ’17, wanted to give her students hope and an opportunity to share their anger and sorrow over what had transpired in a neighborhood many of them live in.

“My students felt powerless the Monday following the mass shooting, as did many in the Buffalo community,” said Borek, a fifth-grade bilingual education teacher at the Frank A. Sedita Academy. “To empower them to be advocates for their communities and to feel they do have a voice and can make change, I decided we should write to President Biden.”

The 20 students, mostly Hispanic and biracial, have experienced racism. Putting words to paper gave them an outlet to express their fear and to offer suggestions that they hope will be considered by people who can make the changes they seek.   

“The students came up with so many wonderful ideas, unprompted by me!” Borek said. “Some of these ideas included increased penalties for discriminatory/racial crimes, adjusted gun legislation to prevent bad actors from accessing guns, added resources in underserved communities that don't have equitable access to grocery stores or other basic services, and they also advocated for Biden to speak directly to the U.S. about racism and racial crime.”

Borek gathered the letters and sent them to President Biden on May 20, just days before another mass shooting took the lives of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. To assist in getting the letters to the president, she forwarded them to the offices of Senator Chuck Schumer and Congressman Brian Higgins, and called the direct Whitehouse Comment Line to ask for attention to be given to the letters. She also reached out to several local media outlets which covered the story. She is hopeful that her efforts will be successful.

“I did receive a generic email addressing gun violence after I called the comment line, but I am anticipating a response from the president in writing, as was our request,” she said. “Typically, letters take about a month to go through the screening process and be read, so we may not hear back until the summer.”

Regardless of whether or not the president responds to the children’s pleas for change, Borek says the activity was worthwhile because it helped her students process the tragic event and understand the influence their words can have.

“They see value in speaking out and have realized their words can impact others and make change,” she said. “My students felt empowered from writing the letters. I also think the experience of writing about this trauma was therapeutic for many of them. I cannot say enough how much children's voices matter, and I think they realized the power that a community can have when they step up and say something is wrong and needs to change. I am so proud of them, their letters, and am grateful to the community and media outlets who took time to read and share their letters.”

 

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