Brothers Adam and Josh Buchwald have gone through two major catastrophes in their young lives — the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in 2018, and now, the coronavirus pandemic. In response, the brothers are channeling their energy toward getting others to protect themselves from COVID-19.
Adam, who is 18, and Josh, who is 17, started a movement this past May called Promise to Humanity. The initiative asks people around the world to sign a contract that says they will promise to wear masks, practice social distancing, and follow safety measures to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The contract can be printed out, mailed, or signed electronically, and signatories are asked to take a picture with the document and post it on social media to spread the message of pandemic safety.
"We have a younger sister, Lauren, who has type 1 diabetes and she's vulnerable to the coronavirus, and we wanted to keep her safe," Adam tells New Times. "We also have both our grandparents who we love so much. That's why we started Promise to Humanity. This is a huge opportunity to have an impact."
So far, the contracts have been signed by more than 6,000 people, and the brothers have partnered with a number of organizations to help spread their message, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
The brothers' latest move? A collaboration with WHO to put out a survey for young people to describe how the pandemic has affected them physically, mentally, and emotionally, something the brothers know firsthand.
"Just being at home for so long, every day is Groundhog Day. It takes an emotional toll on myself and my family," says Josh, a rising senior at Stoneman Douglas.
For Adam, a sophomore at the University of Florida, the pandemic has been isolating.
"For me, it's been really hard. I'm in the middle of summer classes online, and I wanna go see my friends but I can't. It upsets me, and it's been hard seeing people not social distancing," Adam says.
According to the United Nations, the physical impacts of COVID-19 on children are still unclear, but the emotional and developmental impacts on adolescents and teens are easier to predict. Adolescents are in a stage of life where they need to socialize and make connections with others to develop social skills, according to experts from Johns Hopkins University. The isolation from the pandemic, therefore, can potentially harm young people's emotional growth.
Adam and Josh say their global youth survey will launch in the coming month to coincide with International Youth Day on August 12 and will ask how young people feel about being stuck at home during the pandemic. They say WHO will use data from the survey to better communicate with and help young people.
Promise to Humanity is also targeting the opposite demographic: the older generation.
"Josh and I have been working hard to get the word out to senior-citizen homes," says Adam. "We already reached out to a home with 255 senior residents in Deerfield Beach."
The pair want to safely visit senior homes throughout Florida and have residents sign the Promise to Humanity contracts since the older population is more vulnerable to the virus.
After the Parkland shooting in February 2018, when both brothers were still attending Stoneman Douglas, Adam helped start Parents Promise to Kids, another social contract that had parents commit to vote for politicians who supported child safety and gun regulation laws.
On the day of the shooting, Josh was in the freshman building, where the shooter opened fire. Adam says he felt helpless being on the other side of the school during the massacre.
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"The pandemic tragedy and [the shooting] have taken a huge hit on my life and how I've been living the past couple months," Adam says. "I learned that after such a catastrophic event, there's definitely an opportunity to make a difference."
Promise to Humanity has gotten some celebrity attention, including from Abigail Savage of Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, and the brothers say they have more big-name collaborations in the works they can't divulge yet.
Overall, they say the purpose of the movement is to get people worldwide on board with protecting themselves and others in a time when pandemic response and personal safety have been politicized.
"The reason we created this was cause we want people to be held accountable," Adam says