Members of the University community came together Monday to hear a panel about healing from gun violence, taking place on the one-year anniversary of the Nov. 13 shooting that killed University students and football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry.
The event, hosted by the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, consisted of five panelists who have all been personally affected by gun violence. Before the conversation began, the crowd gave a standing ovation, clapping loudly in a show of support for the panelists.
One of the panelists was Happy Perry, the mother of D’Sean. She said that the first few months after the shooting were very rough, but she knew that she had to find strength every day to get up and keep going. After months and months, she finally said things have been getting better.
“It was every day finding joy in something that [D’Sean] wanted,” Happy Perry said. “And to live as D’Sean lived and pour that love into those who pour love into me and my community.”
There were a number of other events Monday, including the opportunity for students to gather on the Lawn at 7 p.m. to sign a banner and place candles on the steps of Old Cabell Hall. The day of remembrance marks exactly one year since students were on lockdown for 12 hours overnight and the three men were killed.
The idea of U.Va. Strong — a community-wide initiative managed by the University’s Alumni Association — and the people behind that movement was a recurring theme of Monday’s panel while many speakers shared their own experiences recovering from gun violence. They reflected on their grief, shared their strength and honored the memories of their loved ones.
A’Dorian Murray-Thomas, panelist and founder of SHE Wins, lost her father to gun violence at a young age. Within the context of healing, she invited the audience to write, record, reflect and remember. She also told a story about her mother, who used to say that people often have to plant the seeds to trees whose shade they might not always sit under, meaning that people can still make a difference in the future, even if change isn’t immediate.
“What does it look like to do the labor of remembering, do the labor of healing as a community, even if we won’t spend or see the full fruits of that labor in our lifetime?” Murray-Thomas said.
For the University community, efforts of healing and remembrance have been largely unwavering over the past year. Countless t-shirts, banners, stickers and pins have been created with the numbers 1, 15 and 41 — the jersey numbers of Davis Jr., Chandler and Perry, respectively. Many permanent vigils have also been built around Grounds, including a memorial tree site near Culbreth Garage and dedicated plaques outside of Scott Stadium.
Classes were canceled the first Monday and Tuesday after the shooting, and students held a silent, candlelit vigil Monday night. Somber students returned to class Wednesday, many of whom were searching for a sense of normalcy. Kevin Parker, panelist and survivor of the 1999 Columbine shooting, said that pain from gun violence is a tunnel you have to walk through, not go around or over, to fully heal.
Parker talked about how people can work to achieve post-traumatic growth. In contrast to post-traumatic stress, post-traumatic growth is the concept that people can experience great personal growth after overcoming a tragedy. Parker said one of the key skills is practicing gratitude, which allows people to have power over their mindset.
“What happens when we express gratitude is that our mind begins to evolve, and our mind begins to look for what’s good,” Parker said.
Other panelists included Tracy Walls, a mother who lost her son to gun violence, and Denzell Brown, a doctoral student at Howard University. Walls talked about how she found strength in recognizing the strength that her son had been able to give others.
Brown encouraged audience members to amplify the voices of parents and family members of victims of gun violence.
“Put yourself in that person’s shoes and empathize with that person, even though it’s hard and you may not know what to begin with,” Brown said.
After the panel ended, participants and attendees were invited to walk to the nearby Chapel for a ceremonious ringing of the bells, where hundreds of people gathered outside the Chapel to hear a rendition of Amazing Grace, followed by three bell chimes in honor of the three lives lost.
“You have to do what sustains your heart and what makes you comfortable and brings you joy,” Walls said.