By Charlie Burns, Kyri Antholis, Susannah Birle, Connor Jackson, and Anabel Simpson
Recently, a racist online comment threatening many of our peers at Charlottesville High School with an “ethnic cleansing” closed all city schools for two days. While some students brushed the threat off as a joke and went back to school on Monday without a second thought, others struggled to focus on classwork, and dozens of students joined a walkout organized by the Black Student Union. For many, it was a moment to consider our own role in the community, as both activists and students.
A few of us on the staff of the Knight-Time Review, the CHS newspaper, were given the opportunity to interview Jaclyn Corin, 18, a survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting and a major organizer of the March for Our Lives protest and Never Again movement against gun violence. She’s coming to town on Tuesday to headline the Tom Tom Festival’s Youth Innovation Summit, just a few weeks after another Albemarle teen threatened to shoot up Albemarle High School.
In talking to Corin, we were moved by her courage in coping with the tragedy in her hometown, and her ability to create action out of her experiences. Her tenacity is especially inspiring for us as students still reeling from the threat of racially charged violence. In her eloquence and insight when speaking on gun control, school safety, and mental health, Corin reminded us that we, as students, can influence society and create change.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
C-VILLE: In Charlottesville, obviously, we’ve had a lot of tension in and out of our school since August 12. What advice would you give to student activists on how to build on media attention and create real change as a teenager?
JACLYN CORIN: That’s a packed question! In regards to the media attention, I would say consistency is key. If you’re constantly doing actions and protests and event building with communities, the local news will pay attention. And it’s also about relationship building with local media and with other organizations that might have more clout in the community.
And in regards to just overall advice to teenagers who want to get involved, the first step is that of course one individual has so much power but there’s even more power within a group of people that share a similar desire and the same hunger for change. So I would urge all teenagers to start having conversations about what’s going on in their community, what they want to see changed, and go from there.
What inspired you to found Never Again and March for Our Lives, and what were the stages in building that?
The day after the shooting, I had this immediate urge to do something productive with my time. I realize now that my activism was my coping mechanism. It was the way that I would distract myself after experiencing the unimaginable. And it was really just about not wanting anyone else to have to experience the feelings that I was feeling and that so many families in that community were feeling.
That’s kind of why my immediate action was to organize a lobbying trip up to the capital in Tallahassee. And by the next day I was doing interviews. I was being very active, because I knew that a lot of people weren’t ready to do that and I wanted to make sure that the media wasn’t creating a story for us, that we were telling our own story.
We were really reflecting on how the country reacted after Sandy Hook, and…that nothing really happened after that. We wanted to make sure that something happened after this shooting. And that kind of led us to saying okay, we have to not only mobilize our community but mobilize the entire country against this issue, because it has gone on long enough.
And, you know, we continued after the march by connecting with a bunch of local organizers, registering tens of thousands of voters, having conversations with people that both agree and disagree with us. And we’re still working a year later, building a huge chapter network of youth organizers and pushing legislation.
How has Parkland changed as a community?
Parkland was the safest community in Florida, and I was so, so privileged to live in a community where I could walk down my street and feel safe and not have to worry about the possibility of getting shot. After [the shooting] there’s always this feeling of uncertainty, of, you know, not being safe. And this tragedy not only traumatized the 3,000-plus people that were in school that day, it also directly affected the family members and friends.
What’s so difficult, and what people often forget, is that a lot of places shootings occur can be avoided, but we can’t avoid school. We now have to walk past the building where it occurred every single day.
I think we always reflect on how lucky we are to be alive, and on moving forward to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
What do you think would be the most effective way for schools now to ensure that students are safe at school, until [gun control] legislation and policies are changed?
The biggest thing I think schools can do to support their students is to do preventive health care measures, meaning actually having mental health care providers in schools and not just guidance counselors who do scheduling, and educating students on where they can go for that support. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
And also I just want to emphasize we need to make sure that we don’t put metal detectors in our schools, [police] in our schools, because that doesn’t do anything except make students feel unsafe, and increase the school to prison pipeline. There’s so many situations that show that a good guy with a gun does not always stop a bad guy with a gun.
You’re not just a high school student anymore, you’re an activist—how do you balance that?
It’s definitely a weird experience. March for Our Lives was the first thing I thought about, every day, and I started to burn out a little bit, and then I understood that I need to make time to be a normal teenager, because that’s what I need to do for self-care. Because I also have a lot of trauma that weighs me down every single day.
There’s also level of celebratizing, and I want to make sure we always share our platform. We experienced gun violence in Parkland one day in our lives, and there are people who experience it every day in their communities. There’s a lot we need to keep doing to make sure that they’re being amplified and everyone understands that gun violence is not just mass shootings.
What change have you seen, and do you feel optimistic about the future of gun control legislation in this country, or frustrated by the lack of action?
We’ve seen dozens of state laws be passed that align with the March for Our Lives mission and will help save lives, but unfortunately we haven’t seen a lot of action on the federal level. [But] I am very optimistic. Just yesterday, I went to a hearing in D.C. around extreme risk orders [preventing people at high risk of harming themselves or others from accessing firearms.] The most encouraging thing is these conversations are happening.
At the same time, we need to make sure we keep up the pressure because this is not something that can be swept under the rug, it’s urgent. Every day over a hundred people lose their lives, and 40,000 people annually lose their lives to gun violence.
It’s definitely a difficult thing to understand this is going to take a while, but we have organizers all around the country that are pushing for legislation in their states and we have to make sure we keep calling out legislators and making sure they’re actually listening to their constituents.