Kathryn Fleisher is fed up. The world is consumed by tragedy, so Fleisher decided to act. Several months after the Oct. 27 shooting at Tree of Life, the University of Pittsburgh junior founded Not My Generation, a nonprofit organization seeking to bring young adults from different backgrounds to engage in local, intersectional gun-violence-prevention activism.
Fleisher felt like she did not have a choice, “quite frankly,” about whether or not to start the organization. Gun violence, she said, is “a national emergency and a public health crisis, and if we don’t take action, I don’t understand how we can expect anyone else to.”
Not My Generation began in December 2018. The group, whose audience is primarily 18- to 25-year-olds, is gearing up for its inaugural summit in Washington, D.C. The three-day event, scheduled for Nov. 8-10, 2019, is supported by partners from the NAACP, Center for American Progress, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, March for Our Lives DC, Youth Over Guns, Generation Progress and Team Enough. The partnerships were inspired by collaborations between Pittsburgh’s Jewish and Muslim communities in the aftermath of the Tree of Life attack, explained Fleisher, a former member of NFTY: The Reform Jewish Youth Movement.
“In the Jewish community, there’s a lot of amazing organizations, a lot of people from different backgrounds and communities doing this work, but a lot of it’s also happening in silos, and people aren’t working inter-organizationally to make this change. And so we’ve been bringing different organizations onboard to be partners with this work,” she said.
Fleisher grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, but feels connected to Pittsburgh’s Jewish community.
It is a familiar sentiment, she added.
“I think that your tragedy and your story isn’t isolated. The way that the Pittsburgh Jewish community has felt and is feeling and the way that I’ve felt and that I’m feeling is not something that’s rare. There are people all across the country who are mourning, who feel like their lives are never going to be the same, who don’t want to see their community in the same way, who now think about safety every time they go to someplace that they used to feel safe in.”
“It’s up to us to change that reality,” she continued. “We have to turn this tragedy into a time for action.”
The devastating totality of gun violence can be seen in 2019, as there have been more mass shootings than days this year. By Aug. 9, the 221st calendar day of 2019, 254 reported and verified mass shootings occurred, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive.
Speaking of the recent shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, Fleisher said, “The thing that brings me most comfort, especially after a weekend of violence and bloodshed, is organizing and knowing that I’m doing something to prevent (more) people from going through what victims and members of our community have gone through.”
Although Fleisher feels compelled to act, she is worried her peers may not share her gusto or possess similar opportunities.
“When you’re 18 to 25, you’re in a very transient period of your life. Whether you’re starting college, grad school or a first job, you tend to not have roots down in the community, or don’t know what kind of organizing is out there,” she said. “We want to give them an outlet to really plug into and connect with the people who are doing that work in their areas.”
For that reason, Not My Generation is taking more of a communal approach than placing individual emphasis, explained Fleisher.
Those interested in the upcoming summit are required to apply as a coalition of four to five people, each representing a different subcommunity within a larger geographic community.
“We’re really trying to bring people with different backgrounds together,” she said.
While the application requirement should promote intersectionality, there is also the idea that attendees will be able to return home post-summit with “plans to really do this work in a comprehensive inclusive way,” she added.
Fleisher is expecting approximately 125 attendees at November’s summit.
“It’s really important to us that this work is non-cost-prohibitive, and we’re fundraising $50,000 to be able to have everyone attend the conference without having financial burden,” she said.
Not My Generation has raised $13,000 to date, largely from individual donors in the Jewish community, she added.
At Pitt, Fleisher studies politics, philosophy and gender, sexuality and women’s studies. There is much to be learned in life, but certain matters are already known, she explained.
“Gun violence is something that has common-sense solutions. We know the way to help mitigate harm. We know the way to make the community safer, but we also know people aren’t doing it. So anything that we can do, that helps to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people, or to just make weapons of war not available to everyone, is saving lives.”
Given past and recent events, such work has incredible meaning, she continued. “This is the way that I found healing. I think that a lot of people think that advocacy and personal healing have to be separate, and for me they’re not. They’re one in the same. And after the Tree of Life shooting, and even today, this is the thing that makes me feel most human.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.