Less than two weeks after a shooter tore through a suburban Florida high school, the country has turned its attention to the previously little-known community. Victims' and survivors' stories have dominated the news cycle as part of an effort to understand and humanize the effects of mass violence. But the "Humans of MSD" Instagram account, has been sharing stories about members of the community since before the horrific shooting happened.
The account, first used back in January of 2015, features 94 facts or mini stories about members of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas community. According to the public biography, Humans of MSD was inspired by the famous "Humans of New York" photoblog, which shares photos and quotes from people across the city and the world. Humans of MSD is one of the hundreds of copycat blogs to use the format as a way to highlight individuals within a community. Students, faculty, and staff are all featured.
Among those recently featured on Humans of MSD is Emma González, who has become one of the most vocal student leaders fighting for gun control in the shooting's aftermath. On Humans of MSD, González appears as a precocious teenager who made a PowerPoint presentation in order to convince her parents to let her cut her hair.
“I decided to cut my hair because it was a pain in the neck, if you’ll forgive the pun," González said, according to the post. She continued:
It was really hot all the time; it was very cumbersome and very heavy, leading to a lot of headaches...The more my parents said no, the more I wanted it. Actually, I even made a PowerPoint in order to convince them that I should do it. I figured I would look really good with it, and I do. So, it all worked out fine.
At times, the stories featured on Humans of MSD are lighthearted, such as a post from Jan. 13, 2015, which relays a short story about one student's brief stint as a child model, and her desire to get back into it. Many, however, dig deeply into the hearts and minds of those chosen. Stories about foster care, immigration, and questioning identity abound.
In the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, many of the surviving teens have been lauded for their bravery, their articulation, and the nuanced way they understand the world. But the Humans of MSD Instagram page shows that it didn't take a tragedy for the town's teens to begin grappling with life's complexities. If their stories are any indication, they have always been very much aware of both themselves and the world around them.
But beyond maturity levels and intricacies of thought, each miniature profile underscores the fundamentally human toll of senseless violence. The account, which doesn't use subjects' names, doesn't appear to have featured any of the shooting's victims, but it does depict a community of uplifting and supporting students and staff. Flipping through post after post, where revelations of disease and injury and mental illness are met with comments of acute support, it's clear this is a close-knit group of students who were and are quick to be each other's cheerleaders.
In one alarmingly prescient post from September of 2016, a former senior at MSD reflected on her mother's premature death and the lessons she learned from her loss:
In our country today, hundreds of mass shootings happen every year and rapists walk away from their crimes unpunished- but that is why now more than ever, we can't live in the fear of death. It makes no sense to miss out on opportunities solely because some maniac might be there and might shoot us. We are not preserving an infinite life just by hiding in fear —we're only missing out on opportunities that we can never reclaim.
Mass shootings leave immeasurable hurt behind. Schools and their communities find themselves suddenly left to pick up the pieces from a devastation they could never have anticipated. But one enduring aspect is the dynamism of the people who lived there and attended those schools. Those people who, brick by brick, comprise the community are also what must ultimately lead to its healing. The Humans of MSD Instagram account shows that the Parkland community is particularly strong, and that through a demonstrated history of perseverance, they will continue to support each other through the good as well as through the bad.