Triumph Over Tragedy:

My New Perspective

Author: Justeen Brown

On May 21st, 1998 our little community of Springfield, Oregon was changed forever. The unthinkable happened at Thurston High School, and our safe, idyllic town was now well-known for all the wrong reasons. I survived the tragedy that day, but lived with the trauma for years. It’s hard to unpack the severity of a mass shooting, but nearly impossible for my 15-year-old self to find her identity after experiencing what she did.

The first responders in our community started a blue-ribbon campaign called “The Ribbon of Promise,” with hopes that this would be the last. Sadly, it seemed to mark the beginning of an epidemic. One month before our one-year anniversary, the shooting at Columbine happened and it threw everyone for a loop. Many of us felt despair for the Denver community and all those who were affected. Many of us felt instantly forgotten as the news started to vanish away and comparisons to both school shootings began. I found the survivor community asking the same question: “What do we do now?”

I spent 20 years wondering what to do with my trauma. Who do I trust with my story? Do I really need to dive deep into the pain to seek healing? It seemed so much easier to ignore it.

When I was approached by The Onsite Foundation, I was skeptical. I am very protective of my community and our story. I asked question after question, and was met with incredible compassion, understanding, and gentleness. During the process, I was asked to describe the trauma, so I did. On May 21st, our community was shattered, like a snow globe shattering when it hits the floor.  

After the intensive week-long ‘Triumph Over Tragedy’ workshop, I revisited that idea and saw instead, a picture of a seed breaking to grow, firmly rooted in rich soil. My perspective had shifted, and I was able to see hope and strength for the first time. It wasn’t easy to dig into the trauma, but living the rest of my life without healing was not negotiable. I learned to fight for myself and leave space for my emotions to surface. I finally found a group of people who understood my pain and offered the right tools to help me heal. 

I feel like I finally have the answer to the question, “What do we do know?”. We seek help, we seek community, and we seek hope. I feel incredibly blessed to be a part of this life-changing organization, and I am honored to join forces with other survivors to spread the message of hope and healing.

If you are reading this and living with similar trauma, I want you to know that you are seen, you are worthy, and you are strong. You will triumph over this tragedy and you do not have to walk through it alone.


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