I have never lost a loved one to gun violence. My high school was not attacked by an armed gunman while I was a student here in DC almost ten years ago. I have not had to experience the horror and trauma that tens of thousands of teenagers around the United States have experienced. Nevertheless, I went to the March for Our Lives on Saturday on Pennsylvania Avenue. I went to listen, to observe, and to try to understand.
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida organized this event because their classmates were gunned down inside of their school on February 14th. 14 students and 3 educators were killed by 19-year old, Nikolas Cruz, with an AR-15 assault rifle. The Parkland shooting could have just as easily been added to a long list of mass shootings in our nation’s recent history, with lots of headlines and little change, but the student activists from Stoneman Douglas decided that they would not let their classmates die in vain.
Saturday’s march drew hundreds of thousands of people to the nation’s capital, and saw dozens of teenage (and younger) speakers share the stage with celebrity performers, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, Vic Mensa, Miley Cyrus, Common, Ariane Grande, Demi Lovato, and Jennifer Hudson. The teenage speakers outshone the stars.
Young people from across the nation took to the stage, in the shadow of the Capitol Building, to tell their stories and speak out against gun violence. Students from Stoneman Douglas—including Cameron Kasky, Delaney Tarr, and David Hogg—delivered the majority of the speeches. But we also heard from young people from South Los Angeles, Chicago, Newtown, Alexandria, and Montgomery County, Maryland.
To cap the day, Parkland survivor, Emma Gonzalez, gave an emotional speech. I’ll remember Emma’s talk not for what she said, but for what she didn’t say. She stood in silence staring out at the hundreds of thousands in the crowd in Washington, and, seemingly, directly into the living rooms of the millions of Americans watching live on television. With her defiant and tearful stare, Emma made us feel the grief and emotion that she and her peers have felt over the last 5 weeks.
After 6 minutes and 20 seconds passed, the timer on Emma’s phone went off. She explained that in the same amount of time she had spent on stage, the Parkland shooter had slain 17 people at her school. She closed by saying, “Fight for your lives, before it’s someone else’s job.”
Due to the loss of loved ones through gun violence, each of these young people have been forced to confront their mortality at a very young age. You could feel the urgency and passion in their voices, suggesting that they will not stop fighting until they see real change — until their younger brothers, sisters, and cousins can feel safe at school, and in their communities. They vowed to any member of Congress who will not take a stand on gun control issues that they would “vote them out.”
These young people shook me to my core, and filled me with emotion. No, I haven’t lost a loved one to gun violence, but I nearly lost a dear friend to a gunshot last year. My friend, a DC police officer named Patrick Bacon, was shot in the stomach while confronting a suspect in Northeast. Patrick made a full recovery, and has now retired from the police force, but what if he had not been so lucky?
Would I have had the same courage that these teenage gun control activists have had to speak out? A better question — why haven’t I done anything in my community since my friend’s gunshot injury put him in danger of losing his life?
This national problem truly hit home here in the nation’s capital. Seventeen-year-old Zion Kelly, from Southeast Washington, lost his twin brother, Zaire, to gun violence last year. Speaking on the big stage on Saturday, Zion said of his brother, “He was a person, a leader, an inspirer, not just another statistic.”
If we are to get the most out of life here in our nation’s capital, shouldn’t we ask ourselves what we can do to prevent the death of young people like Zaire Kelly? How many more stories from survivors like Zion do we need to hear before we all decide to take action?
If you live here in this beautiful city of Washington, DC, I would challenge you to think about how you can be a positive force for change. How can you and I prevent gun violence from being a perpetual fact of life for our fellow Washingtonians? What steps can we take today, tomorrow, and the next day to ensure that young people like Zaire Kelly can flourish into the wonderful people they were destined to be?
No, I haven’t lost a loved one to gun violence. But these kids from Los Angeles, Chicago, Alexandria, Newtown, Parkland, and here in Washington gave me a glimpse of what it feels like. Just a glimpse of their pain and trauma has been enough to help me understand that gun violence in our communities must be stopped. Enough is enough.
Washingtonian on a mission to help people get the most out of life in the nation’s capital.