Rockaway Students Participate In National School Walk-Out

1.JPG

On Valentine’s Day 2018, romance was the furthest thing from students’ minds at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. By the day’s end, the school would have the notoriety of being the site of one of America’s most deadly school shootings. Seventeen people were murdered and seventeen more were injured. However, this incident is not unique. So far in 2018, there have been eight school shootings in the country, including Parkland, and, at the time of printing, there have been at least 18 incidents in schools where at least one person has been shot.

Though Americans have seemingly become desensitized to the utter ridiculousness of school shootings, the tragedy in Parkland has gotten the attention of the nation in unprecedented ways. This time, it is the young people who are directly affected by gun violence who are driving the nationwide conversation away from the standard “thoughts and prayers” and towards gun reform and mental health. These young people feel that enough is enough, and they are determined to make their voices heard. At the forefront of this conversation are student survivors Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky. These students are taking their pain and outrage to the streets and are demanding answers and change. And change is happening. In the month following the shooting, Florida lawmakers have passed legislation around gun control and even President Trump has voiced support for banning bump stocks, devices that can make semi-automatic guns shoot more rounds at a faster pace, making them fully automatic weapons.

But the impact of these student activists did not end there. They put out a call to students around the country to lift their voices and join their movement, and young people across the nation answered their call. On March 14th, one month after the tragedy in Florida, high school students across the country participated in a National School Walkout in solidarity with the victims of the Florida shooting and all young people who are victimized by gun violence. At 10 AM, students walked out of class for 17 minutes, one minute for each of the victims who died in Parkland, in a nationwide action to demand an end to gun violence in schools and in general.

The action was carried out in various ways in different schools, with youth at some schools organizing extended marches around the event to engage key community stakeholders and local policy makers. In Florida, a 9-mile march to their local School Board included multiple schools had over 500 student participants at its peak. Students from several Rockaway schools and campuses also participated in the walkout, including students at Far Rockaway High School, Beach Channel campus, and Scholars’ Academy. High school sophomore Oladoyin Ogunsola played a key part in organizing the student walkout at Scholars’ Academy and was inspired by how many of her peers participated, saying, “I am so proud, but not surprised, by the turnout of my fellow students. This was a great opportunity to show our solidarity as youth fighting for a better future.”

Though the youth-led action centered around gun violence in schools, many student communities took the opportunity to make their voices heard concerning gun violence in general, as well as other school safety concerns. During the walkout at Far Rockaway High School, students sent the message that in our approach to gun control, we must address the many ways that gun violence affects the lives of young people in their schools and in their neighborhoods. The Rockaway community is still reeling from the shooting deaths of two 15 year olds, Trevor Rudd & Youssef Soliman, in early 2018. Far Rockaway High School students held two moments of silence during their walkout, one for the victims of the Parkland shooting and one for the young people lost to gun violence in the streets of Far Rockaway.

At Beach Channel Campus, local activist and high school senior Andrea Colon saw the walkout as an opportunity to address not only senseless gun violence in schools but also institutionalized school policies, like school policing and exclusionary discipline practices, that undermine school safety, particularly for students of color. She says, “It is important that we continue to lift the voices of marginalized youth and youth of color within the national debate on gun violence in schools. Participating in events like the National School Walkout gives us an opportunity to express what safety in our schools looks like to us.” One of the most inspiring things about the national youth movement blossoming around school safety in the wake of the Parkland shooting is the spirit of inclusivity and intentional prioritization by Parkland survivors of traditionally-marginalized youth voices on the national stage. It is this spirit of solidarity amongst young people that will make their vision of safety in schools a reality, as long as we continue to listen to them.