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Last week I was able to attend both the “Seeds of Hope” screening sponsored by Chadron High School and the Whiteclay Summit sponsored by the Legislature’s Whiteclay Task Force.

The film, produced by Nebraska Loves Public Schools, focused on three schools’ ELL programs, including Chadron’s. Many of the students the districts’ are teaching are escaping genocide or other types of violence. They are kids who have never know freedom, who’ve lived inside barbed wire perimeters, or who have had family members kidnapped, or been kidnapped themselves. While Chadron’s ELL population from the Marshall Islands isn’t recovering from those traumas, they still face challenges.

Much of the population of the Pine Ridge Reservation lives in abject poverty, unemployment is rampant and generations are afflicted with the disease of addiction.

In many cases, both populations are seen as unwelcome intruders; people who look and speak and act differently, who should know their place or go back to where they came from – even if it’s a war-torn country and there’s no place to go back to.

Take a moment and put yourself in their shoes. What would you do if your home was destroyed in a civil war? Where would you go? What if your child was kidnapped or your family and friends were threatened with murder for no reason other than your ancestry, or the faith you practice? How would you protect yourself? To what lengths would you go to ensure that your children survived and thrived in a safer place? What if you were born with fetal alcohol syndrome, to parents who suffer the same fate, in an area with woefully inadequate treatment options for alcoholism? Would you want someone to offer assistance and guidance?

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that regardless of circumstances, the majority of people want a better life for themselves and their children. Everyone has a story to tell.

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After the events that unfolded in Las Vegas over the weekend, that should be all the more obvious. The 59 dead and 520 injured, the thousands more traumatized, all have stories to tell. They all have families and friends, a unique cultural background, a belief system, whether that’s in faith, laws or moral values. In the moments that Stephen Paddock opened fire, it didn’t matter if they were black, brown, white, Christian, Muslim or atheist. They were all just people – human beings caught up in a tragedy, hoping to survive, while, in many cases, lending aid and comfort to strangers.

I hope in the aftermath, we can all learn that lesson and apply it on days that are more mundane. There’s enough hate and cruelty in this world without adding to it, and it shouldn’t take a tragedy to inspire love and respect for basic human dignity.

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