Did you hear about the 'walk up' — not walkout? It's a big fail.

I woke up on March 14 to students walking out of school in protest of America's inaction on gun violence.

Fed-up student after fed-up student filled my television screen, and I found myself getting a little teary-eyed as I watched them stand together in solidarity outside their schools. These kids have seen and experienced far too much.

I perused my Facebook feed and saw messages of support and encouragement to kids participating in the National School Walkout.


I also encountered various iterations of this:

On March 14, encourage students to walk up. Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite her to sit with you. ...

Posted by Amy Flynn on Thursday, March 8, 2018

Such posts, advising kids to put their energies into being kinder instead of engaging in civil protest, are accompanied by the hashtag #WalkUpNotOut.

The gist of #WalkUpNotOut is that protest is pointless and kids should try to be more inclusive in order to stop gun violence. The premise of the argument is that America's epidemic of school shootings isn't about gun policy, it's about kids feeling excluded, lonely, and unloved.

The implication? If kids would just be nicer to one another, this issue would be solved.

The message has gotten widespread support — particularly among gun rights advocates — but also among idealistic peacemakers drawn to anything advocating kindness.

I get it. Kids who have healthy friendships and support systems don't generally decide to mass murder their classmates. That seems like a logical point.

However, it's a deflection from the issue at hand — and a potentially dangerous one at that.

What #WalkUpNotOut basically says is, "You might get shot at school because you're not being nice enough."

The problem with the message of "walk up, not out" is that it's essentially victim-blaming. It's like telling a domestic abuse sufferer that if she'd just been nicer to her abuser, she wouldn't have been hit. That the issue of school shootings isn't really about shootings, but about being nicer.

Image via Saul Loeb/Getty Images.

As one Facebook user pointed out, it inadvertently sends the wrong message to the wrong people:

No doubt, all of us could be kinder to our fellow humans. But there have been bullies, loners, and outcasts forever. There are bullies, loners, and outcasts in other countries. Kids being unkind to one another is not a uniquely modern nor uniquely American phenomenon. But regular school shootings are.

I'm not saying kids shouldn't be kinder. But kindness alone doesn't solve our unique gun violence problem.

I’ve not been in a single school in the past decade that has not utilized character education and had inclusion messages plastered all over the walls. Many schools have character curriculums designed to help students be good citizens, good friends, and good people in general. Such programs can have a positive impact on students and schools.

But are they the magic answer to gun violence? No. Of course kids should be kind. Of course we should be encouraging kids to reach out to kids who are lonely. But what about when that's not enough?

Photo by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images.

We have too many guns and they're too easy to get. That's the only difference between our kids and kids around the world.

One could make the argument that America has a "niceness" problem, but unkindness is a universal human reality. We are not more kindness-challenged than other places in the world, and messages like #WalkUpNotOut aren't the answer to our unique gun violence problem. Other countries think we're ridiculous because of our gun culture. Honestly, I'm sitting here thinking the same thing.

Kids can "walk up" to be nicer to one another and they can "walk out" to advocate for gun control legislation. Many of these teens are soon-to-be voters who've been traumatized by active shooter drills their entire lives. Let's not squash their civic engagement with platitudes about niceness. They deserve better than that.

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One day in 2019, Jackson felt a sudden sense of hope for a better living arrangement when she caught wind of the ongoing construction of Veteran's Village in Carson, California — a 51-unit affordable housing development with one, two and three-bedroom apartments and supportive services to residents through a partnership with U.S.VETS.

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And now, for International Women's Day, her company is launching a global campaign with Upworthy to celebrate the women around the world who give back and create real change in their communities.

"I hope the creativity and resilience of these women, and the amazing ways they have found to have real impact, will inspire and energize others as much as they have me," Burch says.

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Shalini SamtaniCourtesy of Shalini Samtani

Take, for example, Shalini Samtani. When her daughter was diagnosed with a rare immune disorder, she spent a lot of time in the hospital, which caused her to quickly realize that there wasn't a single company in the toy industry servicing the physical or emotional needs of the 3 million hospitalized children across America every year. She was determined to change that — so she created The Spread the Joy Foundation to deliver free play kits to pediatric patients all around the country.

Varsha YajmanCourtesy of Varsha Yajman

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Caitlin MurphyCourtesy of Caitlin Murphy

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Simone GordonCourtesy of Simone Gordon

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Victoria SanusiCourtesy of Victoria Sanusi

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And Upworthy and the Tory Burch are just getting started. They are still searching the globe for more extraordinary women who are making an impact in their communities.

Do you know one? If you do, nominate her now. If she's selected, she could receive $5,000 to give to a nonprofit of her choice through the Tory Burch Foundation. Submissions are being accepted on a rolling basis — and one Empowered woman will be selected each month starting in April.

Nominate her now at www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen.

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