Dear America, 
My name is Jarren Peterson Dean. I’m a teacher, and I live in Minneapolis. November 16, 2020 will be six years from the day my boyfriend James was shot and killed. Six years ago, my reality shifted and my world crashed. Six years ago, my transformation began. 
November 16, 2014 was an average Sunday at our house. We watched football and ate chili. But that night, James decided to go out with friends. He never came home. By 1am, his family and I were frantic. We heard news that there had been a shooting about a mile from where we live. We drove around to area hospitals in hopes of finding him. When we walked into one emergency room, I distinctly remember an infomercial on tv. The announcer said, “Today will be the day that will change the rest of your life.” And in that moment, I knew it was true. 
Hours passed and we continued to be told that James had not been admitted as a patient. At around 4am James’s mom was advised by a hospital security guard to call the county morgue. James had been there since 10:30 pm. He was never admitted to a hospital because he was dead when the police arrived at the scene. Imagine a mother finding out about her son’s death by identifying his dead body over the phone. 
Months went by before we finally got answers about what happened that night. James ran into an acquaintance on his way home. The man asked James for a ride. James agreed. The man asked James to stop at a friend’s house on the way. What James didn’t know was that his acquaintance had robbed that very house a week before. When the people inside saw that man coming, they came out shooting. James was shot in the head and neck with a sawed-off shotgun. A witness reported that James’s last words were, “I want to go home.” 
The infomercial I heard in the emergency room that night was exactly right. Losing James to gun violence did completely change the rest of my life. The safety and security I had taken for granted my entire life was stripped of me the split second that trigger was pulled. Years later, I still suffer from the repercussions of this tragic, senseless crime. The aftermath of gun violence follows me like a shadow, and haunts me at the most unexpected times and places. There is no escape. This is my new reality. 
Now I want to tell you someone else’s story. Yours. You are a mother, brother, partner, teacher, rabbi, friend. You woke up on a day that was just like every other day. You ate breakfast. You read the newspaper. You walked the dog. You drove the carpool. You hugged your kids. Hours later, you heard news of a shooting in your city. You panicked. You looked for details online.It was on your street- your block, your house. It was the mall where your sister worked. It was the synagogue where you dropped off your elderly father. It was the movie theater that your friend went to weekly. It was the bar that your nieces went to dance. It was your child’s school. 
You began frantically calling your loved one to make sure they were ok. Of course they would be ok because gun violence doesn’t happen to you. Your loved one didn’t answer. Although you were not thinking clearly, you managed to drive to that place. Police cars, ambulances, people crying, news cameras, helicopters. 
Somebody was able to get their hands on a gun. That person should never have been able to get their hands on a gun. You ran around in a fog, searching for your loved one in a crowd of people. It is then that you are told your loved one was shot and killed. Your father, best friend, uncle, wife, daughter was shot and killed. This is your new reality. 
But here’s the difference in our two stories. Yours can change. America, we don’t have to live like this. We have the power to prevent someone else’s story of gun violence. When James was shot and killed six years ago, I had no idea what my new reality would be. A friend told me, “This isn’t a change in your life. Changes can always be changed back. This is a transformation. You will never be who you were before.” And he was right. I would give anything to change the past. But since I can’t, all I can do is transform the future and put an end to senseless gun violence. I do it for all of us. For our kids. I do it for James. 
Jarren Peterson Dean