Two Residents Honored By White House As ‘Champions Of Change’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two Newtown residents, the father of one of the 12/14 victims and the daughter of a 12/14 survivor, have been named Champions of Change by The White House. All of this year’s honorees are gun violence prevention leaders, recognized for taking critical steps in their communities to reduce gun violence.

Sarah Clements, founder and chairwoman for the Jr Newtown Action Alliance, and Mark Barden, director of advocacy for Sandy Hook Promise, were among the nine Americans formally named Champions of Change during a morning ceremony on April 3. 

The César E. Chávez Champions of Change awards are given by The White House to honor those community leaders who embody the spirit of Mr Chavez’s legacy. Each Champion of Change has committed themselves to improving the lives of others in their communities and across the country. Honorees represent the values and steadfast determination of Cesar E. Chavez .

Valerie B. Jarrett, a senior advisor to President Barack Obama, spoke during the ceremony Thursday morning, saying “We have the opportunity to recognize our citizens who are doing extraordinary things.”

“As a mom, there is no greater pain than the loss of a child,” said Ms Jarrett. “I was disappointed when Congress did not act, and we have not given up. Change really happens from the ground up.

“In the midst of what happened yesterday at Fort Hood,” she said, referring to the shooting death a day earlier of a soldier who shot and killed three people, and injured others, before taking his own life with a gun, “it requires us to dig just a little bit deeper. There are reminders every day of families who experience [the loss of someone to a shooting death].”

Vice President Joseph Biden was apparently planning to attend Thursday’s event, but a White House staff member representing Mr Biden spoke in his place.

“The vice president is glad that we are convening to talk about this crucial issue of gun violence prevention,” the woman said. “You are leaders in the communities on this issue, and models for change everywhere.”

Each Champion was introduced, and then a series of panel discussions where held. A collection of “breakout groups,” led by the honorees, was also scheduled for Thursday afternoon at The White House.

Although a minority of the Senate voted down common-sense legislation according to a White House release, the administration is continuing to take key steps to reduce gun violence by implementing more than 23 executive actions and elevating successful local efforts. This week, the Obama Administration is highlighting the work some of these local leaders have spearheaded to make their neighborhoods safer and to keep firearms out of the wrong hands.

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama declared, “Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say ‘we are not afraid,’ and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”

The White House created the Champions of Change program to feature individuals doing extraordinary things to empower, inspire, and support members of their communities.

Sarah is a senior at Newtown High School. Her mother survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

After 12/14, Sarah began using gun violence prevention advocacy to transform her painful experience into positive action. Jr NAA is the student branch of the Newtown Action Alliance, and the group focuses on educating, empowering, and collaborating with other millennials to address gun violence in every type of community, through legislative action, cultural change, and bridge building.

The group’s goal for 2014 is to bring together urban, suburban, and rural youth to share stories and work together to reduce gun violence, as the issue so disproportionately effects the millennial generation. Sarah is also a gun violence prevention network volunteer lead at Generation Progress, the youth advocacy branch of the Center for American Progress, where she assists in creating a national network of young people working on gun violence prevention on high school and college campuses.

As director of advocacy for Sandy Hook Promise, Mr Barden leads policy and outreach efforts for the group and frequently serves as a spokesperson for the organization. Since the tragic loss of his son Daniel on 12/14, Mr Barden has dedicated himself to bringing people together to prevent future tragedies and spare other families the pain of losing a child to gun violence.

His journey has taken him from a Tea Party congressman’s Florida town hall to introducing President Obama in the Rose Garden, to meetings with members of Congress, governors and state legislators, media interviews, and speaking to civic groups, faith groups, and colleges.

An accomplished professional musician, Mr Barden still finds time to perform. The Barden family, which includes his wife Jackie, their son James and daughter Natalie, has also created a foundation, What Would Daniel Do?, to honor the extraordinary spirit of Daniel Barden.

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