As Brittany Sinitch crouched under her desk at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018, shielding her students, a ray of sunshine hit her shoulder.
“I was scared out of my mind, I had no idea what was going to happen,” she said. “But at that moment, I felt we were unbreakable, me and my students were going to get through this.”
A year later, she launched The Unbreakable Organization, aimed at helping others who have been impacted by gun violence, giving them the space to heal and create community among other survivors.
“To me, being unbreakable isn’t always having to be strong,” she said. “It is about being able to put our pieces back together again that makes us unbreakable, even though it might look or feel different.”
The organization has over 18,000 followers on Instagram, and though locally based in South Florida, has members from all over the nation. For members, Sinitch holds virtual book clubs, yoga sessions, and guided journaling sessions with one of the board of directors, Christina Ogunti, a Boston-based licensed therapist and social worker.
In her practice, Ogunti works with children in the inner city of Dorchester and sees the impact of community violence on them and their families daily.
“So many of these kids are embedded in these tragedies and to be able to support them in a way that’s trauma informed and compassionate is something I really appreciate.”
The Unbreakable Organization also offers scholarships to students who have survived gun violence.
This year they recognized 10 students who have been impacted by tragedy, including 19-year-old Zoe Touray, survivor of the 2021 Oxford High School shooting in Michigan.
Touray received one of the $1,000 scholarships for 2023. She learned of the grant while riding in a cab with her friends.
“The entire cab heard me scream, it was a very surreal moment,” she said. “I am going to use this to further my education and my advocacy career.
Touray is a sophomore at North Carolina A & T University studying political science. She has been involved with March For Our Lives and has started her own program called Survivors Embracing Each Other.
The S.E.E. program seeks to help the youngest victims of school shootings through events to create a safe and healing space for them, such as the Survivors United Playday, in which children take part in field day activities to create life-long relationships.
“I found that meeting other survivors is beneficial because they completely understand what you’re going through since they’ve gone through the same thing.”
Isabella Benjumea is another gun violence survivor. She was in Sinitch’s ninth-grade class during the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
Benjumea was also awarded the $1,000 scholarship this year and plans to use the money to further her education in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Central Florida, a passion that started in Sinitch’s class.
“I would always look forward to her class,” she said. “She taught us the passion behind writing and communicating, the why behind it.”
Sinitch says that these scholarships are one of her favorite aspects of the organization and that their genuine reactions keep her going toward creating more opportunities for them.
Though Sinitch is currently not teaching, she hopes to continue holding events for survivors and providing safe spaces for them to open up about mental health and healing.
“Going through a shooting is a very isolating feeling, which is ironic because so many people have gone through it,” she said. “But this organization has shown me that I am not alone and knowing that we are a community that understands each other is so special, it’s something I’m forever grateful for.”