Forest Park Middle School students have made signs, prepared poems and written speeches, in the run-up to the March 14 walkout they planned in solidarity with the victims of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida that occurred exactly one month ago.
But, students are also thinking beyond the March 14 rally, wondering what their legacy will be for those who come after and how they can sustain the conversation on violence and race.
“I’m an eighth-grader, this is my last year here. I want to do something. I want the younger grades to see this is not OK,” said Ryan Taylor, 13, an eighth-grader at Forest Park Middle School who’s helped organize the demonstrations. “I don’t want them to think that after all these walkouts we’re done, because it means something that kids and innocent people in general are dying.”
After the rally, students will form a club where they will continue to discuss gun violence, race and other pressing social concerns.
Ariel Smith, 13, another eighth-grader, said discussing the relationship between race and gun violence is important, because gun violence disproportionately affects black communities. She said she feels privileged that she feels safe at school.
“We’re not going to sit here just because we’re children,” Smith said. “We’re really going to do something, because this is our future that we’re talking about. If nothing is changed, what’s in it for us? What will the world come to by the time we’re grown?”
At 10 a.m. on March 14, FPMS students will walk out of school, give speeches and recite poems in memory of the victims of the Florida shooting, a recent in a long string of incidents of gun violence since the incident at Columbine High School in 1999, Smith said.
Students will advocate to increase the age at which people can purchase guns, ban assault rifles and call for stricter licensing for gun retailers. Smith and other organizers wonder why it’s taken so long to enact change when it comes to guns. She said she believes that some people are afraid to stand up for tighter legislation.
Taylor, meanwhile, said he believes the National Rifle Association (NRA) has lobbied politicians into submission.
“The NRA, basically, they’re losing money from not selling this” assault rifle, he said.
Both agree that President Donald Trump’s solution of arming teachers is not the correct response.
The gun-control debate hits close to home for the two. Around October 2017, both said they heard rumors than an eighth-grader planned to shoot up Forest Park Middle School.
Although those rumors turned out to be unfounded, they said they felt scared and confused about what the situation was, given that the alleged suspect had previously made comments that made them feel uncomfortable and had exhibited violent behavior.
“I was afraid. I’m not really afraid of a lot of things, but you hear something like that and you’re like, ‘Oh man, time to be serious,'” Taylor said. “Basically, we want this all to stop. We don’t want any more killings to go on at school, because we’re children. We’re supposed to grow and not die at a place where we supposed to learn.”