Updated: Jan 3
By Melissa Lushington, "Don't Cut Corners...Unless It's Cake" - Blog Series Vol. 3, Slice #11
In this year alone, multiple acts of gun violence have taken over in many different parts of the country, especially the one that took place at an elementary school in Uvalde Texas in the month of May. 19 students, 2 teachers, and 21 lives were lost forever. Many people have the unfortunate experience of seeing 21 lives or more lost in front of them, due to the unwanted circumstances of gun violence. As difficult as situations like this may be, it’s important to remember not the shooter, but the victims and it’s important to also remember not how the victims died, but how they lived. Once you do that, you might be able to see a reflection of yourself in one of them. I was able to see a reflection of myself in a 24-year-old woman who was unfortunately one of the Aurora Theater shooting victims on July 12, 2012. The 24-year-old woman’s name is Jessica Redfield Ghawi.
Jessica Ghawi was a sparkling fiery redhead who was born in Michigan but spent most of her life in San Antonio with her parents Sandy and Lonnie Phillips and her brother Jordan. In an article titled, Remembering aspiring sports journalist a year after Aurora shooting, USA Sports Reporter Nicole Auerbach explained that Jessica was a typical average girl who enjoyed dancing, acting, writing, and going to concerts to listen to popular bands such as Plain White T’s and The All-American Rejects. She had a social group of friends and wasn’t even involved in sports entertainment until later on in high school when she states, “Sports didn't enter the picture until the end of high school when she started dating a boy, she met at an SAT prep class.” Nicole reports that Jessica and her then-boyfriend John Patrick had season tickets to the ‘Spurs,’ and they were really into college football. They always watched one game or another, and Jessica would go over to John’s house to watch a game. This sparked Jessica’s interest in pursuing sports journalism, and she reinvented her name from Jessica Ghawi to Jessica Redfield because of her bright red hair. Nicole even reported that writing and journalism run in the family because Jessica’s mom Sandy at one point wanted to become a journalist herself but couldn’t be due to the breakout of World War II. I was born and raised in South Philadelphia, and I wasn’t a typical girl growing up, I was autistic. I had friends, but mostly kept to myself, I was intimidated by social interactions, and I had a withdrawn and isolated nature that didn’t just affect my interactions with peers at school, but even with family members in my personal life. I had
learning difficulties in math due to my brain having difficulties processing information, so I had to be placed in an IEP Program, and I even had a flat monotone voice as well as zero facial expressions that made people sometimes concerned about me in terms of whether I was experiencing depression (which I was secretly, but not all the time). Pictured Jessica Ghawi/Photo: Natalie Tejeda Courtesy of Guardian News and Media Limited However, like Jessica, I also enjoyed acting and writing and it wouldn’t be until high school that I would be actively involved in both. In pursuit of achieving her dream in sportscast journalism, Jessica Redfield interned at different organizations where she worked as a reporter.
According to an article titled, Sports blogger killed in shooting, The first internship took place in Denver, where Jessica moved to in her early 20s. She interned at an organization called 104.3 The Fan, and on July 20, 2012, they made a public statement on Twitter about Jessica’s passing that stated, “We're sad to report @JessicaRedfield, an intern for The Fan, was 1 of those killed in the theater shooting. Our prayers are w/her family.” The second internship took place also in Denver, where Jessica interned for KVET 98.1. Radio Sportscaster Peter Burns told CNN that Jessica, “wanted to be involved in everything.” When talking about his experiences with Jessica, Peter remembered her fondly when he states, “She was just such a vibrant young girl,” he also continues when he states, “She just wanted a career in sports journalism. So, she started saving up money and kind of begging her family, ‘Allow me to move to Denver and chase my dream.’” Finally, Peter made a statement on Twitter giving his reaction to Jessica’s death when he states, “Devastated. Lost a very close friend in the shooting last night. @JessicaRedfield came to Denver to pursue a sports career. I’m shaking.” The third internship took place at 98.1 KVET, and when they found out about Jessica’s death, they made a response on Twitter that states, “SO SAD… our former San Antonio intern, Jessica Redfield, was KILLED in the Colorado movie massacre this morning: http://kvet.com/pages/mosser&hudson.html?article=10283656 #RIP”. Mentioning the previous article, Nicole Auerbach also reported about Canadian Professional Ice Hockey Centre Matt Duchene who remembered the girl in the red dress. In his memories of Jessica, Matt remembered Jessica for always being bold, knowledgeable, and always there. He also shared more memories about Jessica when he states, "When I first saw her the first few times, I was impressed," Duchene says. "I know there's the scholarship (named) after her now to encourage young females to pursue the same thing as her. I think it's great. It's too bad — you never want that at the expense of what happened. But her legacy is definitely living on." In pursuit of achieving my dream of journalism, I did three internships as well. The first internship took place in 2013 when I participated in the Seeing the Stage Through Our Eyes Internship that took place at the Walnut Street Theater. I witnessed the final dress rehearsal of four Broadway Productions, wrote four feature articles for all of them, and was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer for the play that I wrote about Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities. At the end of the internship, Associate Director of Development and former manager of the internship program Rob Weinstein wrote a letter of recommendation, where he talked about my work ethic and contributions to the program. In the letter, Rob writes about my incredible skills in writing and emphasizes my unique ability to create journalism topics when he states, “I am pleased to say that Melissa was one of our star students this year and indeed one of the most impressive participants in all four years that I have run the program. While Melissa did stand out for her writing skills, it was her uncanny ability to come up with unique and clever topics for her articles that stood out the most. She would link one of our productions to pertinent and fascinating topics that were well beyond the comprehension of a typical high school student. She then utilized outside resources including interviews and scholarly articles to help reinforce her hypothesis. I am proud that we were able to select Melissa to be published in The Inquirer for her article about the Walnut’s Production of Other Desert Cities. In fact, if we didn’t have the policy of publishing students only one time each year, she probably would have made the paper at least two more times!” The second internship took place in 2014, where I participated in an internship called KYW News studies which took place at the KYW Newsradio news organization. In this internship, I made a radio news report about a tragedy that took place during my senior year of high school. At the end of the internship, I asked some of my friends to sign my journal and leave thoughtful comments. One of the comments talked about seeing journalism as a continuous part of my life when she states, “It was so nice meeting you! I can definitely see journalism in your future! Good luck!” Another comment talked about how she appreciated my good company, and that she believes in my journalism dreams when she states, “Thank you soooo much for all the laughs and great conversation. You’re going to be a great journalist.” A third comment talked about how she enjoyed being my friend and hat she wishes me luck in my pursuit of journalism when she states, “I had a great time being friends with you. I hope we keep in touch. Wish you success as you pursue your career in journalism. TBH you’re cool.” The third internship took place in 2019 when I was offered an internship by my college professor Eva Blackwell, with an internship called Verge of Independence Project. It was supposed to be a year-long internship where I write one blog per month until December 2020, and even though the expiration date is long past overdue, I committed myself to be a permanent staff writer for Verge of Independence Project: Multimedia Autism Advocacy, where I have been writing monthly blogs for over two years now and I thoroughly enjoy the experience more and more all the time. Finally, in Jessica’s own blog post which you can find at https://jessicaredfield.wordpress.com/ Jessica herself wrote a detailed experience about how she survived an active shooting that took place at the Eaton Center Mall in Toronto. One of the comments that Jessica made in her blog was how the experience taught her how to better appreciate life, appreciate everything in it, and live every second like it’s your last moment on earth when she states, “I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second, I am given.” When I was seventeen years old and a junior in high school, I survived my first active shooting as well which took place on a Friday in January before Martin Luther King Jr. Day. I wrote out the details recently this year for CCP’s Student Vanguard.
In conclusion, on November 27, 2022, Jessica would have been (if I’m correct) 36 years old. I’ll never know the things that could’ve been, but I truly believe that if I had met Jessica today, she and I would have been great friends. I say this because based on everything mentioned in this blog post, Jessica and I have a lot in common. We’re writers, creators, hard workers, creative visionaries, and journalists. The differences are that one of us is here, while the other is not and one of us is autistic, while the other is not. Jessica may not be here anymore to live out her dream, but since I’m still here I feel like in a way her dream lives on through me…in a different way. I think one of the most important lessons to remember from this, is that just because someone is different from you doesn’t mean they’re not the same as you. When you take the time to get to know someone, you’ll realize just how similar you are to someone else. As someone who’s neurodivergent, I took the time to get to know someone who’s neurologically different from me, but whose life story is like mine. From this, I was able to feel a sense of pride in knowing that the person I want to be is someone that Jessica was working towards becoming as well, but never had the chance to do it. So now, as I continue to pursue my career in journalism, I will carry the legacy of Jessica Ghawi Redfield with me to remember that not only am I fulling my dreams, but in a way, Jessica is fulfilling hers too.