Amid chants of “1-2-3-No-Guns-On-Me” and homemade signs reading “Save Our Schools,” some 250 Forest Park Middle School students shivered in the school parking lot at precisely 10 a.m. on March 14, braving the cold to join the nationwide student walkout to honor students and administrators who died during the shooting in Parkland, Florida one month before.
Sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders listened to speeches from classmates calling for an end to the sale of assault rifles, questioning why tighter state and national legislation for gun control has dragged and calling for attendees to cherish every day of their lives, noting the privilege they hold by feeling safe at school but also calling for an end to bullying at FPMS. Student organizers said they were part of Teens Against Gun Violence, a group they formed to stay engaged with issues of gun violence and race after the rally.
“If you have a brother or sister that’s younger than you, what would you do if they died? What would your parents do if you died?” asked Ariel Smith, 13, an eighth-grader who helped organize the protest. Dressed in all black, Smith’s sartorial choice mirrored that of many of her classmates, who wore orange and black — the national anti-gun violence colors — that day.
Sitting near Ariel at the front of the protest, Anaya Marks also dressed in mostly black and joined the pack of student leaders who prepared speeches. Marks asked her classmates if they remembered when fireworks went off near FPMS recently. When they exploded, Marks thought it was gun shots.
“In that moment, I was very, very afraid for my life,” she said. “I thought this might be the day I died. I don’t take things lightly, especially after that day. I thought my family might not get to see me again because someone was angry.”
Parents and community members, including Mayor Anthony Calderone, attended the FPMS demonstration. Mayor Calderone and District 91 Supt. Louis Cavallo met with the five student organizers before the rally to talk about their feelings. After about 40 minutes, Principal Joe Pisano thanked students for attending the demonstration, and invited them to share their feelings about the protest with those they trust.
“If you do have something to say, write it down, talk to your teachers, talk to your parents, talk to somebody about your feelings,” Pisano said, “because what you see impacts you, and it’s important that if you have feelings, to express them.”