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MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Surviving Newtown

Marian Wright Edelman | 7/16/2014, 3 p.m.
As neighbors, members of civic organizations, sororities and fraternities, and faith communities, create connections for children, youth, and families in ...
Marian Wright Edelman (Courtesy of childrensdefense.org)

Nelba Márquez-Greene is a licensed marriage and family therapist who has spent her life helping others. In December 2012 she was the coordinator of a youth and adolescent outpatient psychiatric clinic and a university instructor supervising six clinical interns. But nothing in her professional training could have prepared her for what she, her family, and community would experience after her beautiful 6-year-old daughter Ana Grace and 25 other children and teachers were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

“I imagine our home was not that much different than many others ... I was married to my high school sweetheart and the mother of two beautiful children. My husband, Jimmy, was working fifteen minutes from our house as a professor at a local university. We were both happy to be back in Connecticut and so close to New York City. On December 13th we went out to dinner to the Cheesecake Factory, which we never, ever, ever did during the week. After dinner, Jimmy took the kids home and I stayed at the mall to buy their Christmas gifts.

“And then everything changed.

“The next morning, Ana, our daughter and Isaiah’s sister, was executed while hiding in the tiny bathroom of her first grade classroom. Her teachers along with four other educators and 19 of her schoolmates were also murdered. My son physically survived the massacre. But he was in the building at the time of the shooting. He heard the shots that took his sister’s life. He remembers the screaming, the crying. He remembers his teacher’s survival instructions: Please be quiet and please be still.

“A reverse 911 call that Friday morning led to the beginning of a never ending nightmare. We waited for hours in that firehouse. First believing she was missing; then understanding that she was probably hurt. And then, to accept the probability that she was dead. We’d both come from large families and dreamed of having one of our own someday. And on that 14th of December of 2012, after hours of waiting in a firehouse, those dreams were shattered in one sentence: The shooter killed twenty children.”

Nelba and her family are now the founders of the Ana Grace Project of Klingberg Family Centers, whose mission is to promote love, connection, and community for every child and family. They aim to use research, practical tools, professional development, and public policy to identify the best ways to build those connections and then use them to prevent violence and promote recovery. She and her husband, Jimmy, say they believe love and community are the antidotes for violence and are dedicated to creating real solutions to the kind of violence that took their daughter’s life – spurred on by their faith and belief that it is always best to ‘Overcome Evil with Good.’

As her family continues along their own “continuum from overwhelmed to overcoming,” Nelba has become even more determined to help other families, especially other children, facing trauma. As she told an audience at New York University in May: “Our son not only lost his sister but is a living witness of trauma. As devastating as this event is – we know he is not alone.”