"My teacher looked down at her phone and said, 'There's been a mass shooting in Florida.'"
From the April, 2018 issue
That's how sixteen-year-old Pioneer High junior Sarah Lewis learned of the deaths of fourteen students and three teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. "I was in my economics class," she recalls. "I have friends in the south of Florida. I checked my phone and learned ... it happened to be in the area where I knew some girls."
Her friends were safe--they didn't attend Douglas--but they knew one of the students who died. "That made it even more close to home for me," Lewis says.
Like other students around the country, Lewis didn't just mourn, she took action, organizing a "die-in" at Liberty Plaza. While about 200 people lay still for six minutes--the length of time the shootings took--she read aloud the names of the victims.
Other area high school students organized voter registration drives, called elected officials, joined the national walkout in honor of the murdered students, and rallied at Riverside Park in Ypsilanti. As the Observer went to press, many students planned to travel to D.C. on March 24 to join the nationwide "March for our Lives" there.
Huron High's Gabe Necula, sixteen, says he hadn't previously been politically active but "after seeing the brave students of Parkland" stand up to demand gun-law reform, "I decided I could not sit still." Encouraged by a teacher, Necula wrote letters to Parkland students. He notes that he'd feared for his own safety two years ago, when a masked intruder was reported at Huron (the incident was later described by police as a "prank"). Shortly before the Parkland killings, Serena Smith, seventeen, a junior at Washtenaw International High School in Ypsilanti, went through a lockdown triggered by a bomb threat scrawled on a bathroom wall. The success of the Parkland students in demanding changes from the Florida legislature--which raised the minimum age to buy a gun from eighteen to twenty-one--"inspired me to think 'enough is enough,'" Smith says. "School has become a place I don't
"I have never worked with so many students from different schools," says Emma Roth, a seventeen-year-old Pioneer senior who helped organize the local movement. She thinks the Parkland shootings commanded so much attention because it was "a school in outer suburbia," but hopes the protests will help improve safety in all schools.
Ann Arbor students also helped establish the "Washtenaw Youth Initiative" to advocate for gun control. Theresa Reid of the Washtenaw Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America says members sought advice from her group--itself founded after twenty students and six staffers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. "It might be a turning point," says Reid. "It's going to have to be the next generation" that brings about change.
"Keeping it in the public eye is going to be one of our biggest challenges," says Serena Smith. "But this is going to be a marathon and not a sprint."
[Originally published in April, 2018.]
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