In the News
Hope through tragedy: Christina-Taylor Green's death inspires children to work for better world
by Karina Bland - Dec. 30, 2011 05:02 PM
The Arizona Republic
Christina-Taylor Green was not one to stand on the sidelines. She mediated playground squabbles. She was elected to the student council in third grade, promising "I will work hard to make Mesa Verde a better place for all of us." And when other kids picked on the new boy on the school bus, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor sat next to him, for two weeks, until it stopped.
Christina-Taylor is gone, shot to death in the parking lot of a Safeway grocery store north of Tucson almost a year ago. Five other people died that day as well, and 13 were injured, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.
So it now falls to her parents, John and Roxanna Green, to continue the kind of things their little girl might have done. Such as sponsor a toy drive at Christmas, buy backpacks and school supplies for kids who can't afford them, and fund a new playground and interactive white boards at her elementary school, all through their non-profit, the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation.
"We choose this focus to stay positive, so we just wouldn't shrivel up in our despair, and Christina wouldn't be forgotten," John Green says. "These projects keep her spirit alive."
On Wednesday, Jan. 4, in an hourlong television special in her honor, 12 Arizona students and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor will discuss how to improve the tone of political discourse, foster civil discussions and find common ground on controversial issues.
"For Our Future: A Conversation Inspired by Christina-Taylor Green" airs on television in Arizona and online at future.azcentral.com at 7 p.m. MST.
The 12 students were chosen from nearly 1,200 seventh- to 12th-graders who wrote essays or made videos for a contest co-sponsored by The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com and 12 News, with support from leadership-development group Valley Leadership, about how to improve civil discourse. Although the shooting near Tucson was not the result of political rancor, it became a rallying point for civil discourse.
"It's important to me because what we have seen in recent years is an escalation of disrespect in public discussion in public life. You can disagree agreeably," O'Connor, a champion of civic education and civic participation, whose friend and colleague, U.S. District Judge John Roll, was among the six people killed, told the students.
"In our discussions about political issues, we have to get over anger and work together to reach solutions. We have to do that, and we can."
For that to happen, people have to listen, really listen, says Thor Island of Goodyear, 13, a freshman at Arizona School for the Arts.
"All we do is talk, but we don't actively listen to what each other has to say. That's the trouble," he says. "If we would just listen, we can gain understanding and learn new things."
As the students talked with O'Connor in the studio during the Dec. 8 taping, their parents watched on a monitor in another room. They were impressed by the depth of their children's thinking.
"When I was his age, I was only interested in athletics and girls, the next game and the next date," says Brian Fabiano of Scottsdale, whose son, Tony, 17, a senior at Desert Mountain High, wrote about the putting the best interest of the public first in politics. "He's wise beyond his years."
But Tony says he is no different from other kids, inundated with information, aware and recognizing that things must change.
"We have to stop the mudslinging in politics. Politicians must put the best interest of the public first," he says.
Caroline Kinsley, 17, of Tempe, wrote about her plan to create a website called "Students Opposed to Angry Politics," or SOAP. Her classmates at Tempe Preparatory Academy, where she's a junior, have discussions about everything from politics to classic literature in a civil manner, knowing that they will continue to see each other every day.
"If 20 grumpy, kind of sleep-deprived teenagers can do it, it has to be mandatory for adults," Caroline says.
Rikiya Bain, 16, of Glendale, a junior at Raymond S. Kellis High, says politicians have to stop attacking their opponents.
"This is teaching our generation that the only way to win is to dehumanize their opponent," he says. Instead, kids need good examples of how to win and lose with dignity.
John Green says his daughter was curious about how the political world worked and her role in it. She would have loved to hear what the students have to say.
"We talked to her about if you don't like what's going on, you have to get involved, and you have to get out and vote," he says.
Christina-Taylor campaigned for President Barack Obama with her grandmother and ran for student council, saying in her campaign flier, "I would like your vote today so I can help you get what you want out of our school."
"She just wanted to be part of things, to have a say, and to make a difference," Green says.
And she has.
There's no getting used to Christina-Taylor being gone. Green still half expects her to run out to meet him when he comes home from his travels, or to find her dancing with her mom in the kitchen. He bought Christmas presents for one child this year -- Christina-Taylor's big brother, Dallas, 12 -- instead of two.
Walking in the recently renamed Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Park near his house, Green gestures to where a bronze statue of his daughter by Tucson artist Dan Hickman will be erected in a sunny spot next to the butterfly garden.
Green marvels that his daughter, just one little girl, could have such a huge impact on the world in less than a year. He wants other young people to understand how they can make a difference too.
From the time she was in kindergarten, maybe even younger, Christina-Taylor went with her brother, mom and grandmother to soup kitchens, not just at the holidays but throughout the year, and helped collect food and clothes.
"She found that she really enjoyed helping others. It made her feel good," Green says. Even at her age, Christina-Taylor realized that she was lucky. She told her parents, "We have such a great life. We are so blessed."
It was just before their daughter's funeral that the Greens learned about the bullied boy who Christina-Taylor had befriended on the bus.
"We're very much in despair over losing our daughter -- we still are today. We were looking for reasons to pull it together, and there weren't many, especially in those first few days," Green says. And then a woman approached the Greens and told them about her little boy, who was new to school and bullied, and how their daughter sat beside him.
Green said he and his wife cried, but they were tears of happiness: "We were just so proud of her."
Christina-Taylor hadn't told her parents about the boy. It was something she just did, a small kindness offered at the right time.
"It was a little thing, but it was big. These little things add up to really big things if you live your life like that," Green says.
He encourages kids to start with their own interests. If they like animals, volunteer at a shelter. Good at baseball? Help a younger player with his swing. Sign up for a benefit run, organize a food drive or join student government.
In Tucson, where Girl Scouts spent half their money from cookie sales on toys to donate at Christmas, and across the country, kids are doing kind and generous things in Christina-Taylor's memory, and volunteering, raising money for charity and joining student government.
It helps the Green family heal.
"It makes us very happy to see that children are giving back," Roxanna Green says.
"To make a difference, you have to be involved. ... Get out and try to help," John Green says. "Live your life, if not in service of others, at least aware that you can help others.
"It feels good inside and sometimes you are just the right person for the job."
"For Our Future: A Conversation Inspired by Christina-Taylor Green" airs at 7 p.m. MST Wednesday, Jan. 4, on Channel 12 (KPNX) and streams live on azcentral.com.
The hourlong special features 12 Arizona students and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor talking about improving the political discourse and fostering civil discussion, as well as interviews with those impacted by the Jan. 8, 2011, shooting near Tucson.
Click here to read this story on azcentral.com.
Christina-Taylor: In her mom’s own words
Roxanna Green tells tender, painful story of daughter’s short life but lasting legacy in new book
by Karina Bland, The Arizona Republic
Click here to read this story
Roxanna Green's book about her 9-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor, begins at the end, with a splay of bullets in a grocery-store parking lot on a sunny Saturday morning in January.
Christina-Taylor, standing hand-in-hand with neighbor Suzi Hileman as they waited to meet a real-life congresswoman, was the only child among the six people killed and 13 wounded in the Jan. 8 shootings near Tucson.
U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the target of the assassination attempt, was shot in the head as she met with constituents. Giffords survived. So did Hileman, though she was shot three times and critically injured trying to shield her young friend.
It is rough material for a first chapter.
But Chapter 2 starts at the real beginning, as Christina-Taylor's parents meet in college and form an easy friendship that leads to love. Roxanna was attracted by John's "generosity and outgoing personality"; he was drawn to her "untamed spirit" and "dark beauty."
The book, "As Good As She Imagined," is scheduled for release on Jan. 3, a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the shootings. It chronicles the short life of a little girl who loved old movies and manicures, who was the only girl on her Little League team, who was already interested in politics and had just been elected to the student council.
The book's title is taken from a line in President Barack Obama's speech in Tucson a few days after the shootings as he pointed to Christina-Taylor as a symbol of hope: "I want America to be as good as she imagined it."
"It's our voice. It's our story," Roxanna Green says. "I just want people to know the truth and what really happened."
The way the book is set up, two stories unfold in parallel.
At the start of each chapter is a Bible verse and a personal passage, journallike, that foreshadows the tragedy to come. Those sit in chilling contrast to gentle narratives of the Greens' lives: the first day of school, First Communion, summer travels.
At the opening of Chapter 3: "I have a typically busy Saturday morning planned, January 8, 2011. Pick up Dallas from a sleepover. Get him to karate. Get Christina-Taylor ready for a morning outing with a neighbor. But the day turns out anything but typical."
The chapter itself tells of the Greens having a baby boy, Dallas, learning that he has autism, coming to terms with that and then having a baby girl, Christina-Taylor, almost 9 pounds, brown-eyed and olive-skinned like her mother, born on 9/11/2001, "something good to come out of that tragic day."
It was soon after the shootings that the Greens began receiving offers from authors and publishers to tell their story. The family was reeling, overwhelmed with grief and hesitant to consider such a venture. But they learned that others were writing about Christina-Taylor without having ever met her, and decided they should be the ones to tell their daughter's story.
Their friend Kevin Leman, a Tucson psychologist and author, suggested the Greens collaborate with his colleague Jerry Jenkins, who co-wrote the successful "Left Behind" fiction series and biographies of evangelist Billy Graham, professional athletes Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Orel Hershiser and Nolan Ryan, among others. John Green already was a fan, with some titles in the family's bookcase.
It was a good partnership, Roxanna Green says. They talked on the phone and via e-mail, and then Jenkins came to Tucson in mid-June for a week to interview the Greens. He also researched the shootings and interviewed witnesses, something Green says she could not have handled.
"I don't want to begin to imagine what it was like for them," she says.
The writing was difficult, Green said, with her emotions so raw. Green had never written anything of this magnitude. But she is a good storyteller, rich with detail, so Jenkins, who was quiet and matter-of-fact, did most of the writing. They sent chapters back and forth to one another for editing and review.
"I worked on it day and night, day and night," Green says. "We did nothing else but that."
They wanted to get the book written, edited and published before the anniversary of the shooting. Already, three books related to the tragedy are available or ready for release, most notably a memoir by Giffords and her astronaut husband, Mark Kelly, due next Tuesday. More are in the works.
"There were so many times I wanted to quit," Green says. But she pushed through, chiding herself, "Am I going to let someone else tell my daughter's story or am I going to do it?"
It was also therapeutic to sort through family pictures and recall the details of Christina-Taylor's life:
The sound of her voice singing in the church choir and to Beyoncé songs in her bedroom.
The mom who came to the door with her son two days after the shooting to tell the Greens that her little boy had sat alone on the school bus, made fun of by the other kids, until Christina-Taylor sat beside him every day for two weeks.
Of Christina-Taylor's love for her brother, Dallas, now 12. He wasn't the least bit interested in her when she was born, bopping her with his little plastic bat if he got the chance. But they were inseparable as they got older, and he misses her deeply now.
Christina-Taylor was a little girl with big plans for the future, her Sweet 16 party planned in her mind, college already decided, considering careers in politics, medicine and dance.
Last Christmas, Christina-Taylor finally got the guitar she had been asking for. After the holidays, Green writes, "I recall thinking that life could not have been better. I even said to her, 'Our life is so perfect.' "
And Christina-Taylor told her, "It's like our family is blessed."
But Green had to recall the hard parts, too.
The night before the shooting, Christina-Taylor had a bad dream and crawled into bed with her mom. Green writes, "I'll always wonder if she was having some sort of premonition. Looking back on it now, what a privilege it was to have my beautiful princess with me all through her last night on Earth."
Because the next day, Roxanna Green would be kissing Christina-Taylor's cool face, her body covered from toes to just under her arms, her hands folded over her tummy, like she was sleeping. Green had reached under the sheet to caress her daughter's feet.
She writes, "I couldn't believe it then and still find it hard to accept that less than three hours before, she had been full of life, excited, rolling her eyes at my overprotectiveness, buckling her seat belt, and tell(ing) me, 'Love you, too.' Part of me felt as if I'd been run over by a truck. I don't know how I remained upright."
Even for a veteran writer like Jenkins, it was a difficult book to write.
"It's hard to believe it's not been even a year yet. John and Roxanna have been remarkable in being able to keep some equilibrium and honor their daughter," says Jenkins, who is himself a father of three and grandfather of eight.
"It weighed on me the whole time, and still does. Imagine allowing your child to go to an event with a friend, and the next time you see her she's just a cooling body in a hospital bed. Devastating."
Green couldn't bring herself to read aloud for the audio version of the book. It would have been hard to keep from crying or her voice from wavering. It has been a year, she says, but some days it seems like yesterday.
In the book, she writes, "Sometimes I'm still a basket case, and I'm going to cry every night. But Christina-Taylor was strong -- strong-willed and always seeing the positive in things. She wouldn't let us be down. She would want us to move on and do positive things in her memory. And she really wouldn't want us to dwell on the ugliness, the sad part."
To that end, the Greens started the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation, doing good works in their daughter's name: new playgrounds, computers for schools, backpacks and supplies for kids, and scholarships in the arts, education and sports. Their share of proceeds from the book will go to the foundation.
John Green says he is pleased with the book.
"I hope that by telling this story, others will understand not only the grief and sorrow we experienced, but also feel our love for her and pride in her as we witness the impact of her character and deeds. That is how her legacy will live on," he says.
At the end of the book, Roxanna Green writes, "It is Christina-Taylor's hope, her ambition, her dreams, her spirit of life that keeps us going and will be her legacy. I think she would want people to remember her as a fierce competitor and a strong little woman. She was brave and adventurous, she wanted to learn, she wanted to help people, and she wanted to make a difference."
Arizona shooting still haunts youngest victim's family
by Karina Bland
The Arizona Republic
Roxanna Green finds it easier to think that her 9-year-old daughter, Christina-Taylor, was killed in a car accident. She's not in denial about what really happened. She took the phone call that said to come to the hospital, quickly. She talked to police officers from the scene. She found herself trying to comfort the crying surgeon who hadn't been able to save her daughter's life.
It was international news, after all. The president came.
But it's easier to live with the thought that Christina-Taylor died in a car accident. Because what really happened is so unbelievably mad, so impossible to accept.
Christina-Taylor was just a little girl.
Families of Little Leaguers Michael Cammarata, Christina-Taylor Green to Throw Ceremonial First Pitches
When her grandmother passed away suddenly in 2009 and the family donated her organs, Christina-Taylor Green asked her mother how she could be a donor, too.
Though she was just 8 years old at the time, the Tucson girl and her brother, Dallas, then 10, had a conversation with their parents about organ donation. Christina-Taylor had been particularly close to her grandmother, Yolanda Segalini, who died of bleeding in her brain.
"I told Christina-Taylor and her brother that there was no need for them to think about donating organs right now. 'You are very young,' I told them," the little girl's mother, Roxanna Green, said this week. "I told them it was a very nice, good way to give back, and something to think about when you are older."
Then on Jan. 8, the unthinkable happened. In the worst moment of their lives, Roxanna and her husband, John Green, told doctors to donate the organs of their precious 9-year-old Christina-Taylor.
"I didn't have to think twice about it," Roxanna said. "I knew what she would have wanted. We're all organ donors in our family."
That decision earned their daughter a posthumous honor this week, when the Washington, D.C.-based Eye Bank Association of America presented Roxanna with its Crystal Cornea Award. The award, which recognizes people who champion and model the donation of sight, has been handed out just eight times in the last 20 years.
"We really only give it out when there is a public personality championing the donation," said association president and CEO Patricia Aiken-O'Neill. "We wanted to honor the Greens' courageous decision to share - to bring lightness to people in darkness."
At the presentation, officials with the association and the Donor Network of Arizona noted that Christina-Taylor's lively and strong personality gave others inspiration while she was alive. And in death, they said, she gave a gift that not only helped those in need but has inspired others to give, too.
The organ donation process is confidential. All the Greens have heard is that their daughter's corneas helped save the eyesight of two children. The Greens say they would be open to meeting the recipients if those children and their families want to do so.
A video of Roxanna accepting the award this week will be shown when the Eye Bank Association of America holds its 50th annual meeting at the Westin La Paloma in Tucson June 22-25. The organization represents all eye banks in the country. About 55,000 corneas are donated annually in the U.S., and while there typically isn't a wait for them, Aiken-O'Neill said there's always need for awareness.
"We have stories of recipients who have not seen for 20 years," Aiken-O'Neill said. "It's a surgery that works very well, it's very successful and it really enhances people's lives."
It's unusual for someone as young as Christina-Taylor to have had a conversation with their family about organ donation, but it's an important step for anyone to take, Aiken-O'Neill said.
"Talk to your loved ones," she said, "and then they will know what you want."
Contact reporter Stephanie Innes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4134.
A Mother's mission
Roxanna Green plans to aid schools hurt by budget cuts
Written by reporter Stephanie Innes at email@example.com
Knowing her daughter would not want her to be sad, Roxanna Green is taking action.
Four months ago today, 9-year-old Christina-Taylor Green became the youngest victim of the Jan. 8 Tucson shooting.
And though the timing is coincidence, the Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation is up and running just in time for Mother's Day.
It's a foundation fueled by a mother's love.
Green is the founder and president of the nonprofit, which has a mission of helping fill in the gaps left by cuts in school funding.
The first project in Christina-Taylor's memory will be a new playground at her school, Mesa Verde Elementary, where the equipment is old and outdated.
The Allstate Foundation donated $120,000 cost of the project after hearing Green talk on a radio program about ensuring her daughter's legacy. The Greens donated another $50,000 from their daughter's memorial fund to buy interactive whiteboards and computers for Mesa Verde.
That leaves nearly $200,000 more in a fund that Green plans to use for local projects that reflect her daughter's interests, values and dreams.
Of particular concern to Green are state budget cuts that have slashed music, art and physical education at many schools. Christina-Taylor loved the arts and sports, and Green believes they are crucial to a child's development.
Green has chosen to focus on Tucson not only because this is the community where her family lives, but also because it is the place that opened its hearts to them after the shootings.
"Improving playgrounds, helping teachers, getting backpacks for less-fortunate kids, those are the kinds of things we'll be doing," said Green, a registered nurse.
And she'll be doing it all in the name of her only daughter, an extroverted little girl who brimmed with excitement on the morning of Jan. 8. Christina-Taylor, a brown-eyed third-grader who had just been elected to her student council, wanted to meet her congresswoman that day. She'd planned on talking to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords about the BP oil spill and about what it's like to have a career in politics. Giffords was critically injured in the shooting and is recovering at a rehabilitation hospital in Houston.
"People asked me why we didn't call this the Green Family Foundation, or a name like that," said Green, whose family includes husband John and 11-year-old son Dallas, "but I want this to be about Christina-Taylor. We're going to do everything in our power to make sure her legacy endures."
In the meantime, some days are worse than others.
Holidays are difficult. On Easter, Green had a tough time when she saw all the little girls dressed up at church. Though Christina-Taylor was an avid athlete and the only girl on her Little League team, she also loved to dress up. Shortly before she died, she'd designed a redecoration of her bedroom in pink and black, modeling it on one of her favorite movies - "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
On that same theme, Green has designed pink-and-black pins in the shape of a baseball with the initials CTG. The foundation will sell them as fundraisers, along with Christina-Taylor Green patches and bracelets.
When Green feels her grief surge as on Easter morning, she thinks about her daughter.
"She was amazingly happy all the time. If she ever felt a little down, she'd snap out of it, and I know I have to do that, too," Green said. "It helps me heal to give back, and doing it in my daughter's name gives me a lot of joy."
HOW TO HELP
To learn more about the nonprofit Christina-Taylor Green Memorial Foundation, visit www.christina-taylorgreen.org
Donations and/or orders for Christina-Taylor Green patches, bracelets and pins may be made by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or by going to the website.
"Improving playgrounds, helping teachers, getting backpacks for less-fortunate kids, those are the kinds of things we'll be doing."
Mother of Christina-Taylor Green
Organ Donor Information
People in Arizona can check the box to become registered organ, tissue and cornea donors when they apply for a driver's license or state ID at the Motor Vehicle Division. They can also sign up online at www.DonateLifeAZ.org or call 1-800-94-DONOR.