By: Samantha Baars and Erin O’Hare
It was exactly a month ago that a gunman shot 17 people to death at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Today, local students and their peers across the nation said they won’t stand for that—so they walked.
March 14 marks the first National School Walkout, where thousands of students left their classrooms at 10am to demand gun control legislation.
As a seemingly endless current of teenagers streamed out of Charlottesville High School, 17 students lay motionless with their eyes shut tight, while holding signs made of red paper and black letters that spelled out the names of each victim of the Parkland shootings.
“We’ve become numb to the fear,” said Fré Halvorson-Taylor into a bullhorn to about 700 of her peers. She was reading from a statement that she wrote with Albemarle High School student Camille Pastore, and that representatives from Monticello High School and Western Albemarle High School approved.
“The idea was that it would be read at all the surrounding schools or otherwise disseminated to the Charlottesville community,” Halvorson-Taylor says.
The 12th-grader, who is president of the Young Liberals club, a student representative to the school board and co-editor of the school’s newspaper, said that if schools were closed the day after each school shooting, she and her peers would have missed five days over the last month.
In an earlier conversation with C-VILLE, Halvorson-Taylor said she’s part of the generation that grew up after school shootings such as the ones at Columbine, Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.
“This is our reality,” she said.
Zyahna Bryant, an 11th-grader in a Black Lives Matter T-shirt, announced on the bullhorn that adults are finally acknowledging the intelligence and passion fueling her generation.
“This isn’t news for us,” she said, and in an earlier conversation she noted Parkland survivor Emma Gonzalez as a role model to all young people who want to effect real change.
Over at Monticello High School, students took a different approach as they flooded out of the front doors of their school and into the bright mid-morning sun, but their message was similar.
Hundreds of students quietly walked past the United States and Virginia State flags whipping around in the frigid wind and toward the MHS football stadium down the hill from their school.
One student held a sign above his head: “Never Again,” it read in bold letters. Some students linked arms and walked in step while others held hands and huddled together under blankets. Some wore “Never Again” stickers on their jackets, hats and cheeks. Another held a pink poster and said, just once, “Protect kids, not guns.”
One student stood apart from his classmates and documented the protest with his camera.
The students who organized the Monticello High School walkout had asked for 17 full minutes of silence as the group walked, one minute for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas last month.
Teachers and administrators, many of whom wore parkas and puffy coats, did not participate in the MHS march, but they offered support and protection by lining the path from the school to the stadium and guarding school doors. Some of them held walkie-talkies that crackled with muffled messages about the march’s progress. Albemarle County police officers lined the route as well.
Students gathered on the bold “M” at the center of the football field to observe the remaining minutes of silence. Once the time was up, the students continued to stand quietly in the middle of the field. One student read from the joint statement over the stadium speakers.
“This is not normal,” the statement reads. “This should not be our reality.” And later, “When will thoughts and prayers turn into legislation?”
“For a first time in a long time, the nation is listening to us,” the students said into their bullhorns and loudspeaker microphones. “What will you tell it?”
CHS senior Lamia West, who will be voting in the next election, said she expects to see an uptick in young voters.
“We are educated and we are willing to put ourselves out on the line,” West said. “I want this event to be the last one.”
Updated March 15 at 3:45pm with additional information about the joint statement read at local schools.