Ferndale Students Walk Out to Remember 17 Lives Lost in Florida School Shooting
(Cheryl Weiss, March 15, 2018)
Ferndale, MI – Over 400 students streamed outside from all directions into the courtyard at Ferndale Middle School and Ferndale High School at 9:55am on Wednesday, March 14, 2018 to join the national #ENOUGH National School Walkout. This student-led movement was one of thousands around the United States in which participants walked out of school for seventeen minutes one month after the mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. It is meant to be a time to reflect on the seventeen lives lost during the mass shooting last month, as well as a call to action to stop gun violence.
From every exit in the large school, they came together as one. Some students walked laughing, some walked in silence. Some arrived with friends, arms around each other, some walked alone. Every one of them made the choice to be a part of this event.
The morning was cold; some students shivered and rubbed their hands together as they gathered first in the center of the courtyard, then made their way together to the area prepared with a sound system, and a space for the student organizers to speak. Middle school students even gave up part of their lunch period to be there. Teachers and staff members were in attendance to supervise, but the program was led completely by students.
Sophomore Kyra Newman organized the Ferndale Walkout. “The reason why I decided to organize this walkout was for a few reasons,” she said. “The main one being to raise awareness to this national issue about gun control. The second reason is to honor those who tragically were killed a month ago at MS Douglas High School. It seems as if when a tragedy like this occurs, people don’t want to pay any mind to it unless it directly affects them. This, in a way, makes people think and reflect that this event could’ve easily happened to us as it did to them.”
Newman asked friends Adelaide Wilson and Daphne Wilson to speak at the event. They also collaborated with student Nolan Handyside when they first started to plan the program. Handyside stated, “I helped organize at the beginning, but I got busy with other responsibilities. I chose to participate to stand not only with the victims of the Parkland school shooting but with all school shooting victims.”
The teen organizers took turns addressing the crowd. “We are the change,” was a common theme. As they asserted themselves and shared from their hearts, the message was one of inclusion, of wanting everyone to be safe, to feel loved, to support each other, and most of all, to stop the gun violence in schools. They were poised, passionate, confident speakers, and they touched the hearts of the audience. At one point in the program, a speaker said, “Hold tight, an don’t let go.” And as those words were uttered, a girl in the crowd put her arm around her friend’s shoulders, and for a few moments, they just stayed like that as they listened. One of Newman’s selected readings was the poem, “Life is Like a Roller Coaster,” which was written by Alex Schachter, one of the seventeen victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. It was written just weeks before his death.
Junior Adelaide Wilson encouraged the crowd to act. “School shootings and tragedies like those at Parkland and Sandy Hook can’t be prevented by thoughts and prayers; we need to speak up and make our voices heard to make an actual impact. We are the future of America. Those seventeen students in Parkland deserved to be the future. Those 28 elementary students in Sandy Hook deserved to be the future. This needs to change.”
Then, as Newman prepared to read the names of the seventeen victims of the Parkland massacre, the crowd responded to her request for a moment of silence. As each name was read, the students became more somber. Immediately the mood shifted. Students looked down, looked at each other, looked at the crowd of classmates gathered. No one laughed, no one chatted to a friend, no one whispered. Halfway through the list, a young man’s face crumpled as he fought back tears, listening to each name, of each student his age who was killed on Valentine’s Day in Florida
As the program closed, students were invited to sign the banner, which would be sent to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. If students did not sign the banner outside, they would have an opportunity to sign it later in the lunchroom.
Principal Lisa Williams was proud of the students who organized the Ferndale Walkout. “It went very well,” she said. “I was so happy to see her [Newman] step up and take initiative. Kyra is passionate, her goals were implemented. The goal was to unite as one, protest against gun violence in America, and to memorialize those killed in school shootings. I am proud of the execution of everything – they did a great job.”
The media was not permitted to interview students or take photographs at the school, so students were asked later to share their reflections on the Walkout. Handyside said, “I thought overall it was a great event. It was amazing to see over 400 students all together in one place supporting one single cause.” Adelaide Wilson stated, “The idea was good, most of the students were out supporting. Some of the students weren’t being as respectful as they should have been, but I felt like it made kids feel more aware and connected to others.” Organizer Newman reflected, “My mind was racing, to be truthfully honest, during the Walkout. I was so overcome with emotions that I just spoke without thinking (but everyone said it was good, so I’m glad it happened the way it did). I really think that the main focus of the Walkout was accomplished, and for those students who lack conversations about topics such as this, [they] were educated in what happened, and the long-lasting affects that they have.”
How did today’s Walkout impact the students who attended? According to Wilson, “It inspired me to know that so many students are also passionate about our safety. My friend says she felt encouraged that so many students came together. Another says that she wished it was less like an assembly and more as a national protest, more as students coming together to stand against tragedies.” Handyside added, “My friends and I were shown how much people want to solve this issue. We saw that more people want a solution than we thought.”
For Newman, today’s event is one that she will always remember. “In all honesty, I would’ve never imagined having nearly as many students participate as we did. I was shaking from nerves, from the cold, and I was so overwhelmed with emotions. Overall, this experience was one that I will never forget. I actually felt as if my voice, as well as the voice of our student body, was not only being respected, but being acknowledged as well. My favorite part of the whole presentation was when I was reading the seventeen names of the victims from Parkland. It was completely silent outside. You could feel the rush of emotions from everyone all packed together. Just the raw emotion, and looking around and seeing tears down people’s eyes, it showed me that there was a reason for doing this, and it will truly make a difference.”
Now that the national event is over, what happens next? Handyside is already involved in planning another activity in Ferndale at the end of March. He said, “I’m currently working with a couple FHS alum to plan a March For Our Lives in Ferndale on March 31st. Though I won’t be able to attend, this is something that will help our community think and process this issue.” More details will be shared in the near future about this event.
Wilson has clear ideas for the next steps she believes need to happen. “People should take gun control laws more seriously. People under 21 shouldn’t be given access to guns and assault rifles, and intense background checks should be given to people purchasing weapons. Also, better security systems and better counselors and therapists for kids with mental health issues are necessary. Laws need to be passed to stop these horrible tragedies from happening and more guns is not the solution,” she stated.
When asked what she thinks need to be the next steps, Newman answered, “A long list of things need to be done. Laws need to change, regulations need to change, and the mindsets of people need to change (which is going to be EXTREMELY difficult to be done). But change doesn’t happen immediately, it happens over time. We need to start somewhere, and peaceful protests like this help jumpstart the conversation. I feel like Congress needs to open its doors and let the youth in to discuss issues such as these, because it truly affects us the most, or at least in the last 20 years.”
Finally, if students were able to make one law regarding school safety, what would that law be, and why? Newman responded, “If I could make one law regarding school safety, it would probably be to change the whole process of purchasing a gun. Age requirement should be 21, the grade of weaponry shouldn’t be as high, there should be extensive mental health checks and background checks. The reason I relate this to school safety is because it is so incredibly simple for anyone, at any age, to go out and buy a gun. If these laws are changed, it could prevent tragedies like this from happening ever again.” Handyside stated, “If I could make one law to make schools safer, If I had to choose one, I’d say I would increase funding for school counselors and promote services that allow students to express anger or other negative emotions. This would help curb their anger and possibly prevent a potential school shooter.” Wilson agreed with them. “People under 21 shouldn’t be given access to guns and assault rifles, and intense background checks should be given to people purchasing weapons. Also, better security systems and better counselors and therapists for kids with mental health issues are necessary. Laws need to be passed to stop these horrible tragedies from happening, and more guns is not the solution.”
Ferndale Students Walk Out to Remember 17 Lives Lost in Florida School Shooting