Diane Kaufman sat stunned in front of the television as the unspeakable images from Newtown, Connecticut, bombarded her on December 14, 2012, and the day after, and for days on end after that.
The slaughter of 20 children and six adults by a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School had a special resonance. Kaufman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist on the faculty of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, treats young people in Newark. Far too many of the patients she sees at Rutgers University Behavioral Health Care either witness gun violence directly or endure the loss of family members and friends.
The tears flowed freely, and so did the words, because Kaufman is also a poet. Within a week, she sat down and wrote:
We all participate in the pain of the world
Some make it
Some endure it
Some turn their eyes away
Some plead for the pain to stop …
Forty two lines later, In Memory of the Future was complete – Kaufman’s own monument to the victims of Newtown. Then, over the following months, it became much more than that.
James Manno, vice principal for performance arts at Arts High School in Newark, presented the poem to talented students in the school’s various departments. He wanted to see what they could create.With Kaufman’s words as their guide, musicians composed, graphic artists drew, dancers and drama students interpreted. Manno then pulled the students’ impassioned efforts together and edited a video that expressed their collective grief – for people they did not even know, but whose pain they sensed so clearly.
Manno says it is no accident that students in Newark connected so strongly to the Newtown tragedy, even though urban Newark and semi-rural Newtown can seem worlds apart. “They are sensitive young people, and they feel it,” he explains, “but their own experience also motivated them in what they were creating.”
Kaufman is proud of what her work inspired. “I knew the title had to be In Memory of the Future,” she says. “All the lives lost in Sandy Hook Elementary School represented the future and there is also the future of us, the living.”
That future includes the hopes and dreams of a group of students in Newark, who have sent a special remembrance – from New Jersey to Newtown.