December 14, 2012 was a tragic day in American history. When the first shots rang out at Sandy Hook Elementary School, an innocence was shattered across the United States, but for the members of the Newtown community in Connecticut, it struck even closer to home. In the months that followed, Newtown residents found themselves speaking up—in some cases, about how to fight gun violence.
Sarah Clements, a rising senior at Newtown High School, formed the Junior Newtown Action Alliance (a youth branch of the Newtown Action Alliance) which channels ideas originating with young people into gun violence advocacy projects. Clements calls members of the group “accidental activists,” in reference to the way a mass shooting thrust the community into the national spotlight.
“Making positive change out of what happened on December 14 has been the most meaningful thing possible,” Clements said. “My mom is a teacher at Sandy Hook. She was there that day. I went to Sandy Hook. I knew all the teachers at Sandy Hook.”
She also sees the project as a way for individuals—and the community—to heal.
“The best thing for me becoming myself again is working with Newtown Action Alliance,” Clements said. “That’s why you see a lot of survivors dedicate their lives to what we are doing. It changes you more than anything and you don’t want to see it happen to anyone else. We see it as a moral issue more than a political issue.”
Clements spearheaded a ‘Letter Writing Frenzy,’ during which many community members sent letters to Congress at the same time. Among the attendees was high school freshman Ellie Nikitchyuk, who decided to get involved shortly after the shooting.
“The shooting really influenced us a lot and forced us to grow up quickly,” Nikitchyuk said. “It was a reality check for high schoolers that you are going to grow up so soon and you need to be part of what is going on.”
Clements, for her part, is pleased with the progress that they have made so far and the way that the community has come together.
“We all wanted to do something and we didn’t know what,” she said. “That’s why I joined and formed the Junior Action Alliance. I saw students saying something has to change. We have middle school students even. It is a good outlet for young people who want to make a difference.”