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As a school principal, I’ve seen my fair share of student showcases. Last week, when our students performed the song “When I Grow Up” from the musical “Matilda,” was different.

In front of a sold-out crowd of families, staff and friends, they performed with poise, confidence and enthusiasm. After over five months of rehearsals and an unwavering commitment that neither Covid nor quarantines could squelch, their young faces truly illuminated the stage. The view of my students, from all walks of life, singing and performing with genuine smiles and glee overtook me. I saw such beauty. Such innocence. So much hope.

I also felt an overwhelming sense of sadness for the children in America who will not grow up due to horrifying gun violence. Firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death for children and adolescents, according to the New England Journal of Medicine.

As I watched my students’ stunning performance, I had an internal reckoning, imagining the pain of families in my own school community who have suffered tragic losses and of those who have lost children in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.

Related: Mass shooting in Texas raises the same old questions about how to protect America’s children

Those children, too, deserved to perform, smile and be celebrated by their loved ones for their accomplishments. They deserved to grow up.

They deserved to have their parents and teachers watch them perform in front of an audience, compete in sports and blossom in whatever area they chose. But this right was taken away from them. We must take action now to end gun violence.

School shooting deaths are simply atrocious. I know that we are more than capable and competent enough as a country to figure out sensible safety measures. My hope is that the most recent bipartisan gun reforms will pass and prove effective, and these cycles of gun violence will come to an end. We can no longer stand idly by. We must stop school shootings and all forms of violence before these heinous ideas are even conceptualized.

Decreasing access to guns and increasing mental health services are obvious solutions. But our American obsession with violence is so pervasive and deeply ingrained in our psyche, we also have to rebrand our collective identity. Although we cannot rewrite the past, we must change this narrative of violence now — with rational and humane actions.

As I watched my students’ stunning performance, I had an internal reckoning, imagining the pain of families in my own school community who have suffered tragic losses and of those who have lost children in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.

It is imperative that we increase our investments in education so that our students not only have strong foundations in reading and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and other content areas, but are also equipped with healthy life skills: conflict resolution, confidence, mutual respect across all lines of difference and self-management. We must cultivate critical thinkers and problem solvers.

I believe we also have a deep responsibility to produce content that builds us up instead of promoting our degeneration. Yet too much of our film and TV, social media, gaming and music today is oversaturated with violence and substance abuse. All of this desensitizes us to real life and strips away our humanity.

Instead, let’s use our creativity and talents for the common and collective good.

We must ensure that we provide coordinated, wraparound supports for those in need. I believe we should leverage relationships with community organizations, law enforcement, health and social services to proactively intervene and prevent crimes.

Politics. Monetization. Power. The issues that contribute to the craze of violence today are inarguably complex. Nonetheless, we must figure it out and exhaust every effort to do so. Why? Because every child deserves to grow up “tall enough to reach the branches … smart enough to answer all the questions that you need to know,” and have the chance to “eat sweets … go to bed late … spend all day just lying in the sun,” as the song my students performed in “Matilda” goes.

Related: Mom who lost her son in Sandy Hook says answer to this senseless violence lies in our classrooms

Every child deserves to do all that their little and big hearts’ desire. They have so many aspirations. They want to be chefs, doctors, professional athletes, entrepreneurs, veterinarians. They want to travel the world. They have so many opportunities before them. The right to bear arms does not supersede their right to grow-up and live.

Our job as adults is to do all we can to protect them. While the children aspire to be like us, we would do well to take a page from the “Matilda” script and cry out like the cast of pupils: “We’re revolting!” Taking a stand for our communities. Demanding action and social justice. Spreading love instead of hate.

We must all contribute in some way to ending the violence with a sense of urgency. It is indeed a matter of life and death.

Please: Let the children grow up.

Jasmine Brann is principal and lead learner of Tyler Elementary in Washington, D.C. She is working with leaders in her school community to support violence intervention and prevention.

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