On February 14th, 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the scene of a horrific school shooting that took the lives of 17 innocent students and faculty members. The shooter was armed with an assault rifle called an AR-15. This gun was made with the intent to be used in war, but there are very few restrictions on who can buy one. Where you would have to be 21 to buy a handgun, you only have to be 18 to buy an AR-15. This semi-auto death machine does not need to be in the general public’s hands, as some people have said they use for hunting, but the only thing this weapon is designed to hunt for is humans.
On March 14th, 2018 (one month after the Parkland shooting) Hundreds of schools came together on a day which was known as National Walkout Day. Students walked out of class for 17 minutes in remembrance of the 17 people murdered a month prior. At Heavener, over 100 students walked out in memory of them and with a call for a reform on gun laws to see that something like that would never happen again. They were led by Junior Lilly Howard who made all the signs for the walkout, Sam Graziano who spoke the names of the 17 killed at Stoneman, and then were led in prayer by Junior Brock Stacy. Most teacher respected the student decision to stand up for what they thought was right, with some even supporting them. Then there were other teachers who were openly against their opinions with some of them marking them absent, an unnamed counselor who sent kids trying to walk out back to class, and one staff member even sarcastically saying “yeah, y’all are really gonna change something” as if the whole protest was a big joke.
I got a chance to ask a few questions to a couple of the Students who played a significant role in getting the walkout organized. My first two questions were to Junior Aspin Sanders, Why did YOU walkout today? “I believed in the cause. In both the remembrance of the 17 that were shot in Florida, and in the stance most of us took on gun reform. I walked out because I believe in the cause and the freedom to protest the injustices we see. Chronister (Mr. J. Chronister) said that protesting is a very old tradition in America and I thought it was pretty amazing to be a part of that, to stand up for what all I believed in with all those people beside me.”What inspired you to walkout? “On February 14th when 17 kids died in a brutal school shooting, it shook me to my core. Seeing the pain of all those kids. Seeing the fear of my dad when I was late getting home from school, that broke my heart. I wanted to help and I didn't know how. Mr. Jeff Chronister told us that we had a voice. He made me feel heard in his class. He told us what we could do to help, something I haven't ever really heard from a teacher until this year. I am grateful to have him as a teacher. He gave us the courage and knowledge to walk out with conviction and pride in what we were doing. He inspired me to do something, anything. So I did, in the form of this walkout. But that's not where I am stopping. I said before that I believed in the cause, and I do. I will be voting this year in the upcoming elections, largely in part because of the events that transpired over the last couple months.”
I then asked the front runner of the walkout Lilly Howard, Are you surprised by the number of people who participated in it/what were your expectations for the walkout vs. the actual turnout?”I was really shocked at the amount of people who turned out. I kept counting down the minutes beforehand and the moment I got outside, my mind was blown. There were so many people just pouring out of the building and all I could think was “wow” I realized immediately how many more people were there than I originally thought there would be. My expectations however? I know that most of my fellow classmates are gun owners and were afraid of doing something like this so I only believed that maybe around 20 or so would show up. It was something out of a dream and I was definitely in a dream-like state. I knew this was something great from the moment I poured my heart out to a group of people who believed in me and stood by me. Most of those who supported this cause were out there at 10, and I looked at them with so much appreciation. The amount of times I have said thank you to those that walked out is barely countable or fathomable. My biggest hope for everyone who was out there is for them to call their representatives, make their voices loud and clear, but most importantly, go out and vote when you turn 18.”
I finally asked Sam Graziano a question, There was a lot of negative feedback from the more gun pro students and teachers, How did you deal with that? “The walk out in my opinion was something huge and important that we felt we had to do, that said there were also people who weren't so happy about it. I heard that teachers were saying that whatever we do we "won't make a difference." I really feel like that is a terrible thing to say to high schoolers that are just now being able to vote. Teachers should be there to encourage kids to have a voice, not tear them down when they try. I also heard that students were saying that we were a disturbance and that we should not be allowed to just "walk out." I don't think they understand the point of a walk out or protest. They are supposed to be a disturbance, and for those who think we shouldn't have been allowed to walk out, that may have stopped some people from joining us but I know it wouldn't have stopped all of us. On the subject of negative feedback, with any protest people will respond negatively but you have to stand up for what you believe in and be there for the people that support the same cause that you do.”
Thank you to all the students and faculty who helped support the Movement and remembrance of the 17 that lost their lives. Also a special thank to Mr. J. Chronister for helping us realize the power we had even just as high school students.