The student survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting have ignited a nationwide conversation about gun reform in this country. They’ve appeared on television news programs, spoken at rallies, debated National Rifle Association representatives, and met with legislators—all in two months since 17 students and staff were killed at their high school. They demand widespread reform to U.S. gun policy and school safety.

 

At a Feb. 17 Rally to Support Firearm Safety Legislation, Douglas High School senior Emma Gonzalez said, “The people in the government who were voted into power are lying to us. And us kids seem to be the only ones who notice. We call B.S. They say tougher guns laws do not decrease gun violence. We call B.S.”

Ms. Gonzalez now has over one million followers on Twitter.

While the recent activism by students seems like a watershed moment, throughout history youth and adolescents have been at the forefront of social and political change. In 1899, 3,000 New York City newsboys striked to fight changes made by publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst—and they won.  

With the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, Mary Beth Tinker, her brother John, and Chris Eckhardt sued the Des Moines Independent Community School District after they were suspended for wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War. Eventually, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the students in 1969. Justice Abe Fortas wrote in the majority decision that students and teachers do not “shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate."

In the 1960s, young people, children, and teens played a major role in the growing Civil Rights Movement Youth—from the Birmingham Children’s Crusade, to the African American students who integrated schools like the Little Rock Nine, to groups like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee who organized sit-ins at segregated lunch counters and voter registration drives.

Their legacy continues today with Black Lives Matter and their work organizing and speaking out against racial violence and intolerance 

The Stoneman Douglas students have acknowledged the different ways gun violence is portrayed in the media. "There is a lot of racial disparity in the way that this is covered. If this happened in a place of a lower socioeconomic status or a place like a black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don't think the media would cover it the same," said David Hogg, a Douglas senior, in a Twitter livestream. "We have to use our white privilege now to make sure that all of the voices—all of the people that have died as a result of this and haven't been covered the same can now be heard. It's sad, but it's true.”

Students from North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago reached out to the MSD students hoping to discuss their shared vision: reducing gun violence. Shortly after, a group of Douglas students invited the Chicago teens to Florida and they had a powerful conversation about white privilege “It was like the room just went silent,” said Gerald Smith, an advisor of the Chicago students. “I got choked up. When that came to light, there were tears. That was kind of an olive branch moment. That was just profound,” he added, in a Time Magazine article.

Young people in Baltimore City deal with community violence akin to the Chicago students. In the past year, seven Excel Academy students have been killed due to gun violence. Since the Parkland shooting, The Baltimore Sun crime reporter Kevin Rector has spoken with current Excel Academy students. The Excel students said they are vigilant about their surroundings and concerned for their safety. The Excel Academy students feel safe at their West Baltimore school and noted everyone must go through a metal detector to enter the building.                                                                                                

It’s out in the community where they worry. “I would like to see more kids outside and playing and doing children things instead of locked up in a house because their family is scared for them to go outside,” said Excel senior Raydonna Hawkins.

On March 14, one month since the Parkland shooting, students in the Baltimore area and nationwide, participated in walk-outs and assemblies centered on school violence and gun control. Dorrie Gaeng, a senior at Dulaney High School in Towson, said to The Baltimore Sun, “People think because we are adolescents, our voices don’t matter. We wanted to come out here today and show you that we’re not going to accept that.”

Students at Friends School organized a student march to Baltimore City Hall on March 6 and were joined by peers from other private and public schools including Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School, Roland Park Country School, and Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. While speaking to the students outside City Hall, Mayor Catherine Pugh committed to send Baltimore youth to Washington, D.C for the upcoming March For Our Lives. With the help of private donations, the city coordinated 60 buses, T-shirts and lunches for Baltimore young people and their families to attend the demonstration.

On March 24, an estimated 800,000 people descended on Pennsylvania Avenue for the March For Our Lives, which was organized by Stoneman Douglas students. There were over 800 satellite demonstrations worldwide, including here in Baltimore.

Nadiera Young spoke at Baltimore’s March For Our Lives about her experience as a sixth grade language arts teacher at Roland Park Elementary/Middle School. Young recalled discussing Freddie Gray’s death and police brutality with her students. Two days after Freddie Gray’s death, one of Young’s students asked her: “Why do police keep killing us?” She remembered discussing police brutality and attending Black Lives Matter protests with her students throughout the school year.

“Today, when I say never again, I speak for the 17 students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who did not live to see their high school graduation. I speak for my students whose family members have been killed at the hands of others here in Baltimore. I speak for the countless number of Black and Brown people killed at the hands of the police with no justice for their lives. I speak for my fourteen year old self who will never see her brother again. I speak for my students now and in the future in hopes you are not here protesting again next year,” Young said.

The impassioned response of MSD students has ignited a national conversation and put pressure on several corporations with ties to the NRA. Some states, such as Vermont and Florida have tightened gun control laws.  While appearing on CNN, Douglas High School history teacher Diane Wolk-Rogers said, “Our kids have started a revolution. I’m proud and I’m inspired to be a part of #NeverAgain.”