Another One and What We’re Doing About It

I, like many of you, awoke to the news of another mass shooting last Thursday morning. This time in Thousand Oaks, CA. The victims were largely college students, likely trying to blow off steam at the weekly country western night. Some were students at Pepperdine, the school my brother and sister-in-law attended.

My heart breaks for the victim’s families and friends. For the survivors who will be forced into the same ridiculous club I’ve joined. My prayer list just keeps growing.

Before it happened to me, my emotions after a shooting cycled pretty consistently from despair to anger to complacency.  I found myself in that cycle two weeks ago as I returned to Louisville from my second surgery in Cincinnati, only to hear the news of a shooting at a Kroger where I used to work, in which two innocent people died.  My customers shopped there. I ruminated on the shooting. Had nightmares. Couldn’t get it off my mind. Mourned for the victims. And finally, I decided much of it wasn’t productive. I told myself, “You have a chance to be productive. You can make a difference. Get back to work.” If your emotions follow that same cycle, try transitioning to action instead of complacency.

Many of you feel the same way and I know you have put your faith in me to make a difference with gun violence.  While establishing a non-profit can take time, especially when the executive director is recovering from multiple bullet wounds and surgeries, we are certainly making progress.  Let me share some of it with you.

First and foremost, we are in the midst of building the team.  I will share bios over the coming weeks but we’ve filled the director roles for internet security, firearm education, marketing, mental health, market research, operations, and political partnerships.

I’m also working on the strategic plan and while it is not yet ready for circulation, I can share we are focused on placing a spotlight on the deficiencies riddled throughout our mental health infrastructure, as well as gun laws across the United States. A spotlight that will drive change and ultimately lead to a reduction in gun violence.

I understand the feeling of helplessness and the desire to do something.  Much of what we are looking to accomplish will take time, which is why I’m also focused on giving you opportunities to plug into activities that can make an impact quickly. I hope to share those opportunities with you very soon!

As we’ve all witnessed, due to political discourse, there’s a small window for success in this space.  I will continue to work on thoughtful solutions that give us the best chance for success and will share when ready.  Thank you for being patient and I look forward to engaging you soon!

My Hero

Alphonso Staples, otherwise known as Al, was the single most influential person I encountered on September 6, 2018. I’ve spoken very publicly about this man and I want you to know what he means to me. In a world filled with gun violence and times of despair, it is equally important to look for the good. And that’s Al, as good as it gets.

While I spent only a few minutes in that revolving door, my time there was divided into BA (Before Al) and AA (After Al). During the BA period my mind was consumed with despair. I had played through all the scenarios for survival and none seemed realistic. I had transitioned to defeat and started my final prayer with God. Then I saw Al.

From the moment I saw his frightened yet kind face, I knew I was back in business. I can only speak to my trauma, but finding a solution when you believe none exists, is exhilarating. My adrenaline started pumping and I shifted into survival mode.

I could see the fear in Al’s eyes as he took in the full picture of that morning. But I didn’t draw fear from him, I drew strength. Immediately I started to call for him, “I’ve got a 5 and a 7 year old that need their mother. Come save me!”

Al couldn’t save me immediately, which seemed confusing and frustrating at the time, but I’ve since learned about active shooter protocol and the importance of stopping the immediate danger first. And while it felt like eternity to me, only minutes passed before Al was on his feet and running to my rescue as he pulled me out of that revolving door.

I want to thank Al for being my source of strength and hope at the exact right time. I want to thank Al for the kindness and love he conveyed to me through his eyes and actions in that terrible moment. I want to thank him for thinking so quickly to get my husband on the phone and for conveying the awful news and next steps. I want to thank him and all of the other wonderful police officers for their service to me and other Cincinnatians on that day and every day.

There are a lot of humbling nouns and adjectives being used in conjunction with my name, hero being one of them. I can understand the thought process, but I reserve that word for all of the officers that saved my life on that day, particularly Al. These officers knowingly step into danger on a far more regular basis than any of us - me included! To knowingly face danger to save the lives of others is heroic. To fight to save your own life seems to pale in comparison, but maybe that is just me.

I’ve just finished up another surgery to place a bone graft in my right humerus. Luckily, Al was able to visit me in the hospital. We’ve talked nearly every week, but this was our first face-to-face since the shooting. I was also blessed to meet and listen to his sextet that he has participated in through his church for over 20 years!

Al is the kind of man that makes you feel safe instantly. His warm presence makes for easy conversation and the joy he is exudes is radiating. He is at peace with himself and his place in this world, and every bit of that has rubbed off on me. I pinch myself that my hero, the man I will be connected to for life, is such an exemplary human being!

The pictures and videos below are from our visit in the hospital. His wife and the members of the sextet were just as warm and welcoming. We are all blessed. Thank you, Al.

Erasing Party Lines

Why is it that the topic of gun reform is so controversial? You know the arguments and inflammatory statements...

"Only the police and military should have guns."

“This is a mental health issue only.”

“Guns are evil.”

“Everyone has a constitutional right to bear arms.”

It’s the classic example of why you shouldn’t discuss politics at a dinner party.

Now, the contentiousness of this debate is not lost on me. I’ve pulled further and further away from party lines after becoming a mother but at one point in my life, I wholeheartedly supported one of our major parties. Just like the dialogue I paraphrased above, I too was a loyal soldier, often unwilling to hear the other perspective.

After having my first child, I felt overwhelmed with responsibility. Responsibility to teach my child to be a compassionate person - one that works hard and gives back for the betterment of society.  Such a big task! But with this goal I became more disenchanted with parties and more intrigued with dissecting the issues and the representatives who championed them. 

There is no rule that says you must always side with one party! And that’s where I landed - vote for the individuals who are going to make a difference with the issues that matter to you.

Speaking of issues, I hope you’re here because gun reform is one of your top issues. It is certainly my top priority until we’ve closed major gaps and deaths from gun violence are reduced.

If I’ve got your support, I need you to buy into the mindset that we aren’t here to side with a political party. We are here for impactful solutions that the majority of the country can support. If we can finally erase those party lines and concentrate on what we have in common, we can make a difference and prevent more loss of life.

There is so much room for improvement and I look forward to tackling this issue head on with you. The team is working hard on what solutions to champion first and we look forward to sharing more soon!

Another Step Toward Recovery

My husband, Waller, has been an artist his entire life, but made the decision to pursue it professionally in 2008. Our family wholeheartedly supported this decision and sold our home in Louisville and left town in pursuit of advanced art degrees in Chicago and St. Louis. A year ago, we moved back home to Louisville for him to begin his career and to be closer to our immediate family.

I give you this background as I think it’s helpful to understand the timeline and context that led to Waller’s performance this past Friday at the Tim Faulkner Gallery. As all the articles describe, Waller was forced to postpone a solo show originally scheduled a few weeks ago as a result of my injuries. But even more importantly, he was forced to re-evaluate the work he does.  

When I arrived home from the hospital on Tuesday, September 11, I was immediately surrounded by new caregivers who could give Waller a bit of a reprieve and allow him to transition back to his therapy - art.

His work to date is largely subversive and humorous. His original show was to be both those things. Humor. There is very little room for humor when you are personally pulled into the nightmare that is a mass shooting. Humor is not an emotion Waller currently possesses, and he needed to change his show to reflect his current state of mind.

While I expect you visit this website for a myriad of reasons, I believe the number one reason to be: you feel compelled to end the senseless gun violence occurring in our great country. And while I will primarily stick to the WhitneyStrong Foundation and my progress through these blogs, I have to recognize the power of Friday’s show and its contribution to our mission.

Through the news clip from WAVE3 in Louisville, KY, you can get a sense for the show and the performance. In summary, the previous show was completely changed, and the new concept resulted in paintings and boxes scattered across the gallery floor. To address our new normal, Waller recreated colorful replicas (made of Crayola crayon, his preferred medium) of the 9 mm Taurus handgun and bullets that were used on me and others on September 6.

The performance. While I cannot do the performance justice with my words, I can tell you that participants felt (likely for the first time) a sense of what it must be like to be involved in a mass shooting. And it was a raw and powerful display of emotion from my husband.

Waller and I will continue to take unconventional steps to compel others to take action. We have to disrupt the inertia that keeps you from actively participating in this fight.

I couldn’t be more proud of this show and his performance. And if you’re uncomfortable with what you saw, please support the WhitneyStrong Foundation in whatever way seems natural for you.

A Balancing Act

Thursday was three weeks post-shooting. Many of you have commented on how impressive I am - both with my rapid recovery and with the speedy launch of The WhitneyStrong Foundation. I appreciate the compliment but I am a woman with a mission and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by many talented friends and family members willing to assist.

Before I give a little behind-the-scenes information I must stop to thank a few individuals who shall remain nameless. First, a family member who has been my right and left arm for two weeks - playing every role from Mommy to Social Media Coordinator. Next, thank you to the lawyers who established the non-profit for me in record time. And finally, thank you to one of my dearest friends from business school who pulled in a buddy and accepted the challenge of creating a website for national exposure in less than one week. I will never be able to thank these individuals enough.

Tuesday and Wednesday were exhausting. Doing three interviews (two national and one local) in two days means allowing multiple camera crews to re-arrange and arrange your home for the right angles, multiple interviewers (some on the phone) asking similar questions causing confusion as I tried to remember what I’ve covered and not covered, photographers trying their best to get me to look “natural” (which is not my forte), and my favorite, B-roll, where Waller and I did silly things like walk hand-in-hand in our back yard and hugged for prolonged periods of time. It was a tremendous opportunity and experience but I’m zonked.

I spent the rest of the week napping and doing only the essential tasks like therapy and eating. I’m very driven but when you wake up with a body that aches from head-to-toe and a very stiff right-arm, you listen to your body.

I share these details because I believe they are pertinent to the Foundation. While I have many intelligent and capable friends, no one is working at this full-time. Roles and responsibilities are just being defined and the Director (that’s me) is still trying to let her body heal. Please be patient with our progress. I wish I could move faster but soon enough I will.

In the meantime, I will attempt to pull you into the education process I’ve started for myself and Waller. We are both reading a lot to help build a foundation of knowledge and that can benefit everyone. Stay tuned for more.

And finally as I mentioned in my video blog, thank you. The words of encouragement, the care packages for my family, the donations to WhitneyStrong Foundation. I couldn’t feel more loved or supported. I take this mission seriously and I will fight hard for all of us.

Interview with Good Morning America

So I am going to be on Good Morning America. Not to talk about how to balance motherhood and a demanding career, cool new recipes to make, or a movie or book review. I am going to be on Good Morning America because I was a victim of a mass shooting, shot 12 times, and survived. That sounds like good TV, right? We all love an underdog story. Here’s mine in a nutshell….Woman kisses her precious children and husband goodbye on the way to work on a typical Thursday. While walking into work on a conference call, she is shot 12 times by a mentally ill man that took the life of 3 innocent people. Miraculously, she lives. She suffers physical and emotional damage, but is grateful for life and lives happily ever after.

Sounds exciting… wouldn’t you want to watch an interview with me? Of course I will talk about all that on Good Morning America, but the reason I am most excited about this national television opportunity is to share the energy and passion I now have through The WhitneyStrong Foundation. My story does not end with my miraculous healing. My story is just beginning. I am angry. I am motivated. I feel an insatiable calling to live my life for the victims who died so senselessly. It’s what keeps me moving forward every day. I will not rest until we see action on reducing gun violence.

I hope you will be inspired by my interview. I am just like you – a mom, a wife, a sister, a daughter, a friend, a citizen – who just happened to have a thousand things go right to survive this ordeal. And who now just wants to make a difference and do everything to stop this from happening. Please tune in, let me know how you think I did!

Recovery In General

A lot of people are curious and wishing me a good recovery. I appreciate that, thank you! Although I was hit in the chest multiple times, it’s actually my right arm that has the most damage, with breaks in my humerus, radial head, and ulna. After nearly a 7-hour surgery, lots of screws, a few plates, and one antibiotic cement spacer, I am on my way to healing. I will need one more surgery to replace the spacer with a piece of bone graft from my hip or femur in about a month, and then hope to do more rehabbing as I work to regain functionality. Apparently, I shouldn’t expect to throw a football the way I once did or ever fully straighten my right arm, but hey, I can live with that.

My other wounds are healing nicely. Believe it or not, they are now protected with only Band-Aids and Neosporin. One of the bullets that hit my left arm has caused nerve damage and I have some pretty painful sensations in that hand. I am right-handed so daily tasks have been difficult. Specifically typing. While the doctors are uncertain if this pain will subside, I’m hopeful it will. On the plus side, I starting using talk-to-text a lot more and for the most part, it has been an amazing tool. The down side, I have discovered that I actually do have an accent and sometimes it doesn’t understand me. Without the full use of my arms and hands, it has led to some pretty comical moments.

The hardest part has been that I can’t move at my previous pace and that basic tasks are extremely difficult. I can’t drive obviously, shower alone, lift anything, hold my children, eat without dropping food on myself, or anything that requires the use of both arms. I can walk around just fine and sit down ok, but that’s really it. I am looking forward to getting back to normal after my second surgery and intense physical therapy!

Emotionally, I am doing well. I haven’t had any symptoms of PTSD, which my therapist says is very encouraging. I never saw what was going on when I was shot. I didn’t see a shadow of the shooter, know where he was, or see anything that was happening. I was in my own isolated, terrified world when I was stuck in that revolving door. I believe, that isolation and not seeing him has really helped with my emotional healing. I haven’t experience flashbacks, or episodes of depression or crying. When I cry today, it is for the three victims who died. It is for their families who will no longer be able to hold their loved ones in their arms. I am grateful that I am able to push forward with my cause and my renewed sense of being.

Loved ones around me would probably wish I would slow down, rest, and take my time getting back to the real world. But there is no time. Since Sept. 6, there have been five more mass shootings (at least) – in 3 weeks! My wounds will heal. Others’ will not. There is no more time to wait and rest.