“Be a nuisance when it counts. Do your part to inform and stimulate the public to join your action. Be depressed, discouraged & disappointed in failure & disheartening effects of ignorance, greed, & bad politics – but never give up.” – Marjory Stoneman Douglas
February 14, 2018 is a date that America and the world will sadly remember. On a day where people were celebrating Valentine’s Day or Ash Wednesday, heartbreaking sadness and unspeakable tragedy struck in what was called the safest city in Florida. Parkland, located in Broward County and roughly 37 miles from Miami, endured the worse school massacre since Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. As students were wrapping up their day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, a heavily armed 19-year-old and former Marjory Stoneman student with a history of mental health issues, Nikolas Cruz opened fire with an AR-15 assault rifle on school grounds which left both this school and close-knit community in complete shambles. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel described the tragedy as
“Another horrific day, a detestable day. I’m absolutely sick to my stomach to see children who go to school armed with backpacks and pencils lose their lives.”
Rebecca Bogart, a student at Marjory Stoneman, reflected on the moment when she and her classmates hid underneath their desks for safety in which “it was really hard to be calm. My friend was holding my hand. I’m still in shock right now.”
The aftermath of the Parkland shooting not only claimed 17 innocent lives (most of whom were students with promising futures along with a couple teachers that saved other innocent lives from being taken), but also left a deep wound where the community would immediately come and heal together. Students, their families, and the rest of the community wasted no time in consoling and supporting each other through while voicing the need for both stricter gun control and greater emphasis on mental health opportunities.
A candlelight vigil would be held the following day where thousands of students, family members, and school staff congregated while chanting loudly “no more guns.” Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime, 14, was one of affected victims, fought back tears while giving a speech about his daughter and the issue on gun violence. In his eyes,
“Jaime was such a special kid. All the kids here are. What is unfathomable is Jaime took a bullet and is dead. I don’t know what I’ll do next. My wife is home. We are broken. But I can tell you – – don’t tell me there is no such thing as gun violence.” – Fred Guttenberg
His emotionally charged speech would set a greater tone for rallying the Parkland community and having their voices heard louder throughout Florida and the rest of the country.
Following the vigil, community members of Parkland banded together and marched towards Tallahassee where students met with lawmakers to advocate for gun control legislation. The day ended with a town hall special hosted by CNN where students, family members, teachers, and others from Parkland had the chance to vent their anger and frustration towards key lawmakers (including Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bill Nelson, and Rep. Ted Deutch) while posing difficult, yet serious questions and expecting answers that would strongly advocating for stricter gun control.
There were many defining moments of the town hall, but the one that stuck out most was when Emma Gonzalez, one of Marjory Stoneman’s most vocal student activists, confronted NRA Spokesperson Dana Loesch with her opening remark, “I want you to know that we will support your children in a way that you will not”, where she proceeded to ask her the question about the NRA and their stance on how difficult it would be for people to obtain semiautomatic weapons.
Emma’s remark and question towards Loesch not only received praise from the audience, but also led major sponsors such as First National Bank of Omaha, Hertz, United, and Delta to sever ties with NRA. This movement from the Parkland community is just the beginning of a significant movement where a greater and immediate call can be enforced for stricter gun laws and implementing more opportunities for curbing mental health issues.
As the Parkland community continues to heal and rally from this tragedy, their voices and actions continues to grow louder and stronger by the minute. More importantly, their outreach and engagement has galvanized and impacted every part of the country, if not every part of the world. The recent National School Walkout sent a greater tone and louder message throughout the country and the world. Students peacefully walked out of their classes to not only observe a moment of silence for the 17 students whose lives were tragically taken from the Parkland shooting, but also continued expressing to lawmakers the end to school violence using hashtags such as #EnoughIsEnough and #NeverAgain.
Grace Myers, a student in the School of Arts in Rochester City School District, summed up her walkout experience as, “Leaving school is an incredibly powerful message to send to politicians. Education is something that is foundation in both parties. Democrats and Republicans both believe education is a key element of American democracy.” The movement and advocacy presented by America’s youth is a clear sign that all lives including students matters!