Op/Ed: Candles and balloons

By Donna Bullock, State Representative, 195th District

State Rep. Donna Bullock

My older son celebrated his 13th birthday in January.  We shared this moment virtually with family and friends. As I decorated his backdrop with balloons and he blew out candles on a cake, it hit me.

Something so innocent and joyful has been redefined by the growing number of gun deaths. A week before, a 9-year-old girl stepped away from her virtual class and was accidentally shot by her 5-year-old cousin- just a few blocks from my home. Her teachers and classmates held a vigil— with candles and balloons.

It pained my heart. I’m a mother of two boys. Their birthday parties have always been accented by candles and balloons. I spend days planning themes and colors fitting each of their personalities.

But in 2021, 499 people will not celebrate a birthday in the city of Philadelphia. Their families will not watch them blow out candles on cake. Instead, some may visit a weather-stressed vigil of candles, balloons, and stuffed animals- symbols of gun violence and loss in our city.

Aside from being a mom, I’m an elected official, serving the folks in the 195th Legislative District in Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives.

Last fall, after another mass shooting claimed two lives in Philadelphia when 55 bullets rang out at a local playground in my district, I felt moved to speak on the House floor.

I shared that my sweet boys don’t view candles and balloons as symbols of birthdays any longer. Instead, my boys associate those symbols with lives lost to gun violence, because so often the people left to grieve the victims of these shootings bring candles and balloons in vigil.

In the span of a month, my community saw three mass shootings. Each time, candles and balloons were displayed at the scenes where people – often young people – took their last breath.

My boys walk down the street and they see candles and balloons at the corner of our block. They see candles and balloons at the recreation center. They see candles and balloons on the way to their grandmom’s house.

But candles and balloons need to mean something else to my boys, to all our children.

Just as I asked my colleagues for their prayers for victims, families and communities, I am asking for your prayers.

But that’s not all I seek.

I’m begging for action.

I’m demanding action.

There are bills being introduced or reintroduced this session – some by Democrats and some by Republicans – that would make common sense reforms to keep people safer from gun violence.

I personally introduced several pieces of legislation last session that did not see action that would be positive steps toward curbing gun violence. One bill in particular (H.B. 2717) would help support community-based violence reduction initiatives.

As a mother who is afraid of the fate that could befall her own children in this city that I love so much, a city that is scarred almost daily by gun violence, I must use my voice to speak out.

We must take action to stop gun violence in our communities.

I made this plea to my House colleagues last session and will do so again this session.

I know I have their thoughts and prayers, but I need their actions.

Help me, help us all, by demanding action from your elected officials.

Together, we can ensure more people have more birthdays. We can allow our children to grow up in a world where candles and balloons mean birthdays, not tragedy.

Donna Bullock is the elected state representative for the 195th District in North Philadelphia.

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