As the 24-7 news cycle roars on, these teens know that February's shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL and the ensuing protests are beginning to fade from the forefront of Americans' minds. They understand that news coverage of mass shootings typically starts to fade soon after tragedies.
However, they're putting America on notice: They're not going to let anyone forget what happened in Parkland, or what happened in Maryland, or what happens to thousands of children in every part of the country on a daily basis.
In March, a month after the Parkland shooting, students nationwide staged a walkout, with an estimated one million participating. The momentum isn't slowing: On Friday, which marks 19 years since the Columbine High School massacre, students across the country and their supporters will be participating in the National School Walkout, created by 16-year-old high schooler Lane Murdock.
"There’s a lot of time that has passed since March 14, so we’re trying to keep the fire burning and keep people as passionate as they were," Kennedy Mackey, a 17-year-old senior at Douglas Freeman High School in Richmond, VA, tells Refinery29.
Kennedy, along with her friend and fellow classmate Max Nardi, is leading a walkout and rally at her school Friday, a culmination of organizing that was spurred by Parkland. Kennedy says it started with just 30 students attending their district's school board meetings, but the movement quickly grew: "Somehow by some magic force we ended up with a count of 5,000 to 10,000 people coming with us on Friday which has been a great help and we’re very very grateful for the amount of support we’re receiving from not just our school but surrounding areas as well."
Kennedy tells Refinery29 that her own apathy after February's shooting was what jolted her to get involved in the gun reform movement. She says that when she first saw news of the shooting on the TV, she sort of just brushed it off. "So the next morning when I saw it for the second time I was like ‘Oh wow, I was completely disconnected from that last night. I didn’t pay any attention to that.’ And that startled me because, why did I not care?" she says. "Especially since I’m the one closest to the situation being that I’m a high school student. If I don’t care, and if I’m not triggered by this, no adults are. So that caused me to have a wakeup call."
Across the country in Frisco, TX, 16-year-old Kundai Nyamandi, a junior at Heritage High School, was inspired by all the students across the country who walked out and protested in March. Although her school was on spring break, and therefore could not participate, Kundai says it was a call to action for her. "We were able to see people across the country participate. And that really inspired me to start this one at my school because I knew we could do more than just walk out," she tells Refinery29.
Coyotes, make sure you’re wearing an orange ribbon this week in support of ending gun violence! Find one of our student organizers if you want one ? pic.twitter.com/Gsr0Er98ou— Heritage HS Student Walkout (@HeritageWalkout) April 17, 2018
The day after the walkout, Kundai created the @Fisd_walkout Twitter account and started mobilizing student leaders across the district. Along with other peers, she is leading the district-wide walkout, that will include voter registration. Student organizers who are 18 were deputized in order to register people to vote, which Kundai believes is a key component to activism.
"One of the most important things is getting the attention of lawmakers. If they weren’t listening before, they have to now," she tells Refinery29. "We are students and we are making our voices heard."
Join Frisco ISD students across the district as we walk out against gun violence on Friday, April 20th. Please visit https://t.co/86eue7UghE for information on how to sign up, where your school's walkout will be located, and more. Together, we will demand change. pic.twitter.com/NpIlVBDl2Q— Frisco ISD Student Walkout (@fisd_walkout) April 16, 2018
For Kennedy back in Virginia, these school walkouts are only the beginning. "While this can be the forefront and we may be able to use school shootings as a catalyst to get the conversation started, we need to be talking about gun violence period," Kennedy says. "This issue does not stop in the classroom."
Kennedy believes her generation is in a unique and privileged position to change the course of the country — and that adults and lawmakers better start taking them seriously.
"I think that this is a lesson my generation needed to learn and I’m very grateful it is happening early in our lives so we can understand that when we all come together and decide that something is important enough for us to make change about it, we know how to do it now," she says. "I think we’re going to be the change agents that you’re eventually going to see leading our nation."
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