RELATED: ‘Vote them out!’ Marchers demand gun control, new leaders
By Sean Barron
Less than a year ago, Kira Walker embarked on a weeklong bus trip through the Deep South in which she learned about the civil-rights movement and enduring lessons from that era about tolerance, compassion and civic responsibility.
Now she’s put them into action.
“I wanted to be part of the movement for gun control, and see kids change history,” the Youngstown Early College junior said, referring to what motivated her to be part of Saturday’s historic Rally For Our Lives events.
Walker was one of about 50 Mahoning Valley residents who left by bus early Saturday morning from Choffin Career and Technical Center for the five-hour ride to the nation’s capital, where they joined an estimated 500,000 people for the rally aimed at calling attention to what organizers see as a need to ban military-style assault weapons outside the military and tighter background checks for those purchasing any firearm.
Launching the rally were students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the scene of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting in which 17 students and staff were killed.
More than 800 such rallies took place in cities in the country and the world.
In early 2017, Walker went on the Sojourn to the Past, a weeklong immersive bus journey through the South that’s also designed to instill in participants the importance of speaking up against injustices. She sees parallels between the civil-rights struggles 50 years ago and those surrounding gun violence today, and feels that young people such as the MSD High students hold the key to bringing needed social change to make the U.S. safer from gun violence.
“The Parkland students are taking their grief and doing something constructive with it,” she explained. “Children will rise where adults fall.”
Echoing her views was Sarina Chatman, a Youngstown State University student majoring in interpersonal communications who also was part of Sojourn.
“Elected officials don’t always feel gun control is important. People’s lives are being taken in school, which is supposed to be the safest place to be,” she said. “Students come to learn; they have the right to go to school and not have their lives taken while in school.”
Chatman added that she also took part in the Rally For Our Lives to stand in solidarity with the students in Parkland. She praised their tenacity and determination to work toward changing gun laws.
Chatman and Walker’s activism is in lockstep with that of young people who have shaped the nation’s history, such as the Little Rock Nine, the group of nine black students who integrated the all-white Central High School in September 1957 in Little Rock, Ark., and those who took part in the May 1963 Children’s March in Birmingham, Ala., which was pivotal in dismantling segregation in that city, noted Penny Wells, Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past’s executive director.
It’s crucial that young people “realize the power they have to make a difference,” she said.
Wells also praised six Youngstown high-school students who will be going on Sojourn to the Past beginning March 31 – Laquanna Jones, Ke’Lynn Dean, Antowin Dabney, Freedom Reed, Aniyah Brooks and Hannah Leszyeski – for displaying their activism ahead of the journey by being part of the rally gathering.
In addition, the local students were instrumental in planning the March 14 walkouts to remember the 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students and staff who were killed and to honor the survivors.
Their actions are part of a bigger picture that students nationwide have had enough of preventable school shootings, she said, adding that young people’s activism also is causing a greater number of adults to act.
Among the speakers during the rally in Washington were Marjory Stoneman Douglas students Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tarr, Sarah Chadwick, Alex Wind, David Hogg, Jaclyn Corin, Ryan Deitsch, Aaliyah Eastland, Samantha Fuentes and Emma Gonzalez.
The youths spoke passionately against further gun violence, often using the word “Enough” to stress one of the event’s main mantras. They also honored those who have been killed by guns and their loved ones whose lives were forever altered, implored elected officials to take action or be voted out of office in November and lambasted politicians who they contend continue to place the interests of the National Rifle Association above their constituents and protecting lives.
None, however, advocated taking people’s firearms or stepping on the Second Amendment.
A particularly emotional moment came when two students mentioned that Saturday would have been Nicholas Dworet’s 18th birthday, prompting many in the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Dworet was among the 17 killed in Parkland.