A few years later, Sharon was hit by the bullet in the back of the head and killed instantly. After that, everything changed for Gladden and his family.
“Sharon’s legacy started to really come out and it was surprising,” Gladden said. “At her funeral, someone read a poem she had written and since I had done a lot of creative writing, I really paid attention to it.”
This poem, titled “Don’t Miss Me”, was written by a young woman who, at the time, would have no idea what would happen to her, but expressed deep feelings about life and life.
“It was about maximizing what you have now,” Gladden said. “I guess I get this from people who are dying or older, but she was spreading it at a young age. It was deep”
Gladden’s father was from Alabama and even at the age of 13 considered most of that side of his family to be “simple country people”.
“Sharon had her own complexity of thought,” Gladden said. “There she was downtown interacting with some of her friends, like she normally would, and she was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Now, all these decades later, Gladden thinks back to her big sister and the short but impactful life she lived. And the increase in gun violence that is happening across the country today. Gladden said the timing of his death was like his own initiation into adulthood at the age of 13.
“I guess that incident grounded me in a way that my upbringing in art school didn’t,” Gladden said. “I started to really confront elements of my identity and what that would mean for my life going forward.”
Gladden’s training in acting, creative writing, dance and vocal music prepared him for a future in the arts world. He was accepted into the University of Cincinnati Conservatory of Music’s dramatic performance program and into a lecture and performance program at the Julliard School in New York. His upbringing prepared him to act in films and on stage, but he eventually decided he wanted to teach. He received his doctorate in education from Northern Kentucky University.
“I’ve been teaching for over 10 years now,” Gladden said. “I teach composition, creative writing, and literature at Cincinnati State University.”
And all of his life experiences, including the most pivotal loss of his older sister, prepared him for everything he does today, including motivational speaking, acting, teaching and now writing her first book.
“I work with at-risk adolescents and young adults to improve education and equity outcomes,” Gladden said.
With gun violence on the rise today, Gladden focuses on inclusivity with topics ranging from anti-racist school cultures to inclusion and gender equity to trauma and learning for children. overcome. He describes his as yet untitled book as “creative non-fiction”, with the story of his sister’s senseless death woven throughout.
“Sharon was a young woman in the spring of her life,” Gladden said. “But if you read her poetry, it’s like she’s in the fall or winter of her life.”
Gladden recounts Sharon’s story in his book and how what happened marked the death of his own childhood and launched him almost immediately on the path to adulthood. He also writes about the toll of his life as a black man struggling with his own identity.
“I hope we can all work together on a culture shift and move away from violence,” Gladden said. “We all have to confront everything that troubles us and pushes us to violence. We just need to be better with each other.
For more information, log on to ronniegladden.com