On March 14th, Frederick Douglass Academy (FDA) VIII was one of thousands of schools across the nation to participate in a vivacious protest over gun laws one month after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
This year alone there have been about 17 school shootings, including the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (MSD) High School where a gunman shot and killed 17 students. The youth of our nation has had enough with living in fear, and demand changes to gun control legislation. These students are not even old enough to vote, but they have been inspired by the speeches and bravery of students at MSD High School and are tired of not being a part of the gun law conversation.
The Nationwide Walkout was a chance for students from middle schools and high schools to be heard. For 17 minutes, the teens walked out of their schools and marched. Some marched through the streets of Washington D.C., in New York students sat in the same area where protesters “Occupied Wall Street” in Zuccotti Park and others walked around their community chanting for change.
At FDA VIII (a school renowned for its volunteerism and community outreach) the students walked around their school with small signs, chanting inspirational words to onlookers. The middle schoolers were not fazed by the cold and unafraid to appear outspoken. They wanted the Spring Creek Towers (SCT) community to know that they too have had enough with the weak gun laws.
“One, two, three, four! We don’t want gun violence anymore,” shouted FDA VIII students as they walked past their school yard. “Two, four, six, eight! No more violence in our state,” they bellowed passing through Pennsylvania Avenue.
The harsh cold winds did not dampen their determined spirits. Students like Khia Williams knew that this protest was bigger than 17 minutes of lost class time. It was about fighting for a change. “I learned that not every gun serves a good purpose. We need laws that ensure the safety of everyone in the community, especially the students. There needs to be stricter laws that ensure people who are not mentally stable or violent will be stopped from receiving a gun,” Williams said.
Acting Vice Principal Robert Burnside and the rest of the school’s staff supported their students in this effort. “We had a discussion with our students about the walkout beforehand and what it stands for. They told us they wanted to participate for the sake of legislative reform. In addition to the walk, the students want to take it a step further and do more, so we are helping them with a few ideas on how to approach that,” Burnside said.
Throughout the tri-state area students stepped out of their classrooms at 10 am and protested either in silence or marched around their school for 17 minutes (representing each MSD High School student that perished in the shooting). Governor Andrew Cuomo supported the walkout and the children’s use of freedom of speech. He even joined students in Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park as they made bold gun restriction proposals (although Cuomo did not say that he endorsed these proposals).
In addition, some schools took measures to stop students from walking out and even took disciplinary action against those that did protest. “There have been several reports of New York State schools disciplining students and faculty for participating in yesterday’s historic events to stop gun violence. In at least one disturbing incident, it was reported that the school physically blocked the exits to prevent students from demonstrating. These actions send a terrible message to New York’s children and are against constitutional free speech protections. I call on you to use State Education Department’s authority to stop these schools, reverse course and cease any disciplinary actions,” Cuomo stated in a letter to the State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
Middle schools within the SCT were allowed, and at FDA VIII students were encouraged to participate in the walkout. Although IS 364 students did not join FDA VIII in the walkout, Principal Nicole Fraser Edmund stated that their children were allowed to participate, but most likely didn’t because the school was undergoing a quality review that day.
In a statement by the Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, “In a peaceful, yet powerful display of unity and civic engagement, students across New York State, and the nation, walked out of their classrooms to demand action on two of the most pressing issues of our time – ensuring school safety and stemming the tide of gun violence. This is a national movement; it is real; and it is being driven by our students. As educators, we often talk about ‘teachable moments.’ These young people, united in peaceful protest to demand action by our Congress on gun violence, are turning tragedy into a teachable moment for our federal lawmakers. We commend these students for their bold example of leadership in action and call on Congress and lawmakers across the nation to heed their voices.”
Photo by Amanda Moses