My name is Kyrah Simon. I’m a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, and lost a childhood friend, Helena Ramsay, in the shooting that occurred last year. I always have to introduce myself that way so people don’t invalidate my story. Every interview is a reiteration of who I am, why I even matter, and a neat sound bite so self-proclaimed liberals can cheer on their “Parkland hero.”
At first, I thought it was worth it. I was getting my voice out there, being outspoken, being the person I thought I had to be. Yet, the media wasn’t interested in any message that differed from politics or how many dead people I knew. If my answer wasn’t riveting or controversial, I was brushed off and it was on to the next. I felt like I was putting in so much of myself, pushing myself to roll out of bed and stare into the eyes of a content-hungry interviewer for no purpose. I couldn’t spew policy points, crucify a list of NRA affiliates, or give a viral speech. I was just a girl that lost her friend. And it wasn’t enough.
After February 14, I was glued to social media. I spectated as classmates became celebrities, as their names became synonymous with the term “Parkland survivor,” and their tweets went viral. I blamed myself for not getting out of bed the day after the shooting and flanking down news stations to give my opinion. I blamed myself for my immobility, my disbelief of the nightmare that had become reality.
I couldn’t spew policy points, crucify a list of NRA affiliates, or give a viral speech. I was just a girl that lost her friend. And it wasn’t enough.
It was the following week that the CNN Town Hall was held. I remember being directed by security to the seats reserved for Douglas students and their families. I faced the empty seats on the stage and wondered who the lucky students were that got to speak for the school. Just kidding, I knew exactly who would fill those seats.
It was exclusive at that point. A group of students were the faces of “the movement,” the names people mentioned when discussing just how amazing these Parkland students were. It was impenetrable, both publicly and privately. If you gave an interview you were titled as a follower, questioned about how the Parkland kids inspired you...as if you weren’t one.
I remember gathering a group of girls for an interview on our first day back to school after the shooting, sitting for over an hour explaining our perspective as Black Parkland students, and having the journalist take our numbers only to pass up our story for a more notable student.
I felt discarded, yet I knew our names weren’t recognizable and a story featuring us wouldn’t do for her what the story featuring the student would. The rules of the game were clear. And I couldn’t figure out who to be mad at. So I chose everyone.
Everyone struggled to adapt to the stage light that had lit up our community and battled for a turn to speak into the microphone at center stage. We looked so united on television — a mourning crowd at a vigil, smothering sobs into each other’s shoulders, tear-stained faces raising fists of resistance — but we were lost in a community we couldn’t recognize.
It was exclusive at that point. A group of students were the faces of “the movement,” the names people mentioned when discussing just how amazing these Parkland students were.
I think back to the protest in March. To seeing the congested streets in D.C. and hearing whispers about which A-list celebrity was hiding in the crowd. Of holding on to the pink poster I had made for my friend, praying they would project it on the big screen. I remember looking up and watching a video from inside the classroom where my friend took her last breath. Gunshots and screams played over the loudspeakers before it cut to the next clip in the Parkland montage. I couldn’t wrap my head around it. But I knew who I wanted to be mad at this time.
I steamed and brooded for the duration of the show, coming to the conclusion that this wasn’t about what happened at my school. As pop artists like Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande took the stage, I knew the show wasn’t really about the victims, the injured, or the mourning families — it was about politics.
I became even more bitter and angry. I questioned whether I was misguided in my anger. If I could blame a group of people for my pain over being unheard, for the pain of seeing classmates that had become witnesses to murder be unheard, for the pain of seeing people from across the country claim my school as if it were a trend.
It’s not my lack of fame or popularity that upsets me, it’s my inability to change that I feel like I’m letting my friend down. Like I’m to blame for the fact that “Helena Ramsay” is spelled differently on the back of every memorial T-shirt I see.
I’ve known Helena since kindergarten and her heart never changed. As we grew up, she was never the one to tease or bully, or do anything just because her friends were doing it. She never felt the need to change herself to fit in. She was so comfortable being herself and I think that’s what I admire about her the most. She, like every victim of gun violence, deserves to be remembered. So, I'm never going to stop sharing her story, no matter the cost.
Kyrah Simon is a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.