As I entered the revolving door at Fifth Third Bank headquarters that morning, I was immediately hit by bullets…
Creating a mission statement for a nonprofit that you never envisioned starting is a daunting task. And creating a mission statement that is focused on reducing gun violence is even more so. However, after being shot 12 times the morning of Sept 6, 2018, in Cincinnati, Ohio and miraculously living to tell about it, I have no other option.
As I entered the revolving door at Fifth Third Bank headquarters that morning, I was immediately hit by bullets. For a brief period of time, I believed I was dying and fought as hard as possible to contact my husband so that I could say goodbye one last time. As I attempted to reach for my phone, I was shot again. Resolving to play dead to increase my chance of survival, I slumped my body into the bottom of the revolving door and my mind started to race.
“I thought about how angry I was that I hadn’t done anything to prevent this exact situation from happening.”
— Whitney Austin, FOUNDER
For months I had thought about volunteering with organized efforts to reduce gun violence. In fact, I received text messages and felt guilty that I signed up just to ignore them. As I cowered in that revolving door I thought about those text messages. I thought about how angry I was that I hadn’t done anything to prevent this exact situation from happening. I thought, “Am I going down in a mass shooting? This is absurd.”
Very quickly thereafter I made eye contact with the police and my determination to live was stronger than ever. Ask anyone from that day who encountered me - the first responders, the police, the ER nurses - my message was the same: “I have a 5- and a 7-year-old who need their mother. You have to save me.”
It was with that determination and drive, combined with the anger I felt toward the situation that I had found myself in, that kept me alive. Some people have called it “beast mode” - I think it’s just being a mother.
How do I reconcile that I lived as a result of nearly thousands of things going right and others died as a result of nearly thousands of things going wrong? I can’t. I can only say that I feel an undeniable force pushing me to tackle gun violence.
When you get the chance to see your family after facing death, something changes inside of you. And the only way I can make sense of it is to take this overwhelming sense of gratitude and turn it into something greater than me.
What is Whitney/Strong? I can tell you what it’s not. It is not another failed attempt to make progress on the issue of gun violence as a result of partisanship. America is divided, we cannot even agree on what defines a mass shooting. According to an article in The Washington Post, there have been 6 mass shootings in 2018. However, Business Insider states that 154 have taken place this year. We shouldn’t be disputing the definition; we should be focused on how to prevent the next one.
We can do better and we will do better.
What comes next? I am a product manager. I have an MBA. I do not have any experience in politics. I am not a Democrat. I am not a Republican. But I actually think that helps me. I am a mother. I am a wife. I am an employee. I am a U.S. citizen. I will work with anyone to further my mission, and I think at this point most of you would too.
Just like in product management, I am going to surround myself with experts who can assist me in my effort — the sum will truly be greater than its parts. We are going to look at the data and determine our biggest chance for success — maybe it is tackling mental health, maybe it is re-envisioning how consumers purchase guns, maybe the best tactic isn’t even on our radar yet. But once we taste success, more will follow as we will finally prove that this great country can solve this problem.
Please join with Whitney/Strong today by making a donation. Together we’ll be working with politicians to drive conversations related to gun violence as well as gathering data and leveraging findings to drive education, advocacy, and solutions. We can prevent these situations from happening and I’m excited to take advantage of my second chance in life to make a meaningful difference. I can’t do it alone… but we can do it together.