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Dayton Strong

We never thought it could happen to us…and then it did. It is so hard to see my hometown splashed all over every TV screen because of a mass shooting.

I grew up in Dayton, Ohio. It has a small-town feel even though it’s the sixth largest city in Ohio. We are known for our “Eds, Feds and Meds”. We have 4 colleges and universities, Wright Patterson Air Force Base and healthcare institutions that employ about 32,000 people.

Dayton is the birthplace of Orville Wright, poet Paul Laurence Dunbar and entrepreneur John H. Patterson. Dayton is known for its many patents, inventors and inventions−most notably the Wright Brothers’ invention of powered flight. Charles Kettering helped develop the first electric cash register propelling NCR into the national spotlight. Few people know that NCR helped develop a code-breaking machine that turned the tide of WWII.

One of the most catastrophic things that has ever happened to Dayton−before the Sunday, August 4 shootings−were the recent tornadoes that wiped out Dayton area communities. Long before that was the devastating Great Dayton Flood of 1913. Dayton has also suffered the third greatest percentage loss of population largely due to the loss of manufacturing jobs.

But we now have a downtown expansion which has brought our city back to life. We can largely thank builders Patti and Charlie Simms, among others, for that. We are known for our highly successful minor league baseball team, the Dayton Dragons. We have an incredible performance arts center, the Schuster Center. And we are internationally known for the Dayton Peace Accords.

We are a charming city, nicknamed the “Gem City”. We’re not sure where that nickname originated, but if you live here, you know that Dayton is a gem. My father used to call Dayton “Mayberry”−an innocent and ideal place to raise a family.

Dayton has ten historical neighborhoods. One of them is the Oregon District where on August 4 the massacre took place. Ten people were killed (including the shooter) and 27 were injured. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Dayton police who risk their lives every day and who were able to stop the shooter within 30 seconds of the first shots. I’m sure that the Dayton police are still processing what happened. Dayton, our Gem city, is still processing what happened, and so am I. If something like this can happen here, it can happen anywhere.

Some of us have delayed reactions to horrifying situations, and I am one of those people. On Sunday, I was driving to Philadelphia for business when I heard the devastating news. On Monday, I was supposed to film four webinars for Surgent, a company that provides online education for CPAs. Ironically, two of the webinars were entitled: Chaotics: Managing Change and Stress in a Turbulent Environment and Resilience: How to Build It in Yourself and Others.

As I was speaking to the camera about chaos and resilience, I realized that I was trying to deal with the tragedy myself from only hours before. I had to compartmentalize. The unthinkable had just happened in my hometown, where my beloved father had started his family and career. But somehow, I still had to perform my work duties.

As we have seen in the recent past, life just goes on. It’s not uncommon to hear about mass shootings anymore. It can happen anywhere. But I truly believe that we need to be more diligent in seeking solutions. Now is the time for action! Quite simply, a mentally ill person should not have access to any firearm. As parents and teachers, we need to pay attention and report disturbing behaviors. We need to be preventive so that what happened can never happen again. I am proud to be a facilitator for NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Health. We need to generously fund them so they can continue their life-saving work. We also need to have common-sense gun legislation and comprehensive background checks.

It is hard to imagine how anything good can come out of last Saturday’s shootings. But we know that nothing changes, if nothing changes. Perhaps this tragedy will finally be an impetus for change−real change. We also know that real change happens when the pain of the status quo is greater than no change. The status quo in this country is now too painful.

Pastor Joel Osteen said, “Our life’s interruptions are often our opportunities …and that there can be a blessing in a tragedy”. We know that people and countries can change for the better when they go through a significant emotional event. We know that people can change when something happens to a significant other. And we know that great growth can occur out of a crisis. In Oriental symbols, the word “crisis” means “danger plus opportunity”.

But even though there may be some opportunity out of this crisis, we still need to grieve what “was”. Dayton is no longer the innocent, small-town “Mayberry” that it once was. We are now thrust into the national conversation−whether we want it or not.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, renowned psychiatrist and author, spent her entire career and life researching grief and loss. She is known for her model on the 5 stages of grief…. from “denial” to “acceptance”. Eventually, we will have to accept that this happened in Dayton. And hopefully, we will heed Ghandi’s advice…to be the change that we want to see happen.

We have countless examples of heroic recoveries. Poet Robert Frost, a four-time Pulitzer prize winner reminds us that “the best way out is always through”.

We need to remember a man who lost his first love to typhoid, was defeated in 8 elections, went bankrupt and eventually had a nervous breakdown. This same man, Abraham Lincoln, went on to change the course of history.

We need to remember Louis Zamperini, an Olympic runner and airman during WWII. He crashed into the Pacific, was listed as dead and spent 47 days adrift in a life-raft before being captured and tortured by the Japanese. When asked how he survived, he said, “No matter what you’re faced with, you can deal with it. You just can’t ever give up”. Zamperini was married 54 years and died at age 97.

We need to remember Nelson Mandela, who became the president of South Africa after spending nearly 30 years in prison. He said that one of the most important decisions he ever made was to leave his bitterness and hatred behind. Otherwise, he felt that−even as a free man−he would have been in the prison of his own mind.

“Bend, not break” is a lesson Ping Fu (CEO of Geomagic) learned from her Shanghai Papa. Her papa raised her in China and taught her about the three friends of winter.

The pine tree stays green in the bitter cold.

The plum blossom shows its brilliance when it snows.

And the bamboo is flexible and won’t break.

Papa told Ping Fu, “Ping, you must be bamboo!”.

Like Robert Frost said, “The best way out is always through”. Lincoln, Zamperini, Mandela, Ping Fu and many of us have had to learn that lesson. When we change the way we look at things, they change the way they look. Dayton, Ohio is a story of survival and resilience.

Edmund Burke, an 18th century philosopher and conservative member of Parliament said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is when good men do nothing”. The good men and women have made Dayton what it is today. We now have an opportunity to make a difference in the world!



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