Students from Districts 65 and 202 joined an estimated 1 million of their peers across the country in a wave of passionate protests on National School Walkout Day, March 14.
They walked out of Haven Middle School to show that middle-schoolers have opinions that matter.
They walked out to remember the 17 students killed by a shooter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., a month earlier.
They walked out to honor those felled by bullets at Virginia Tech and Columbine and Sandy Hook in years past.
They walked out to shore up their courage. They walked out to quell their fears.
They walked out to effect change.
They walked out to send a message: Enough gun violence.
Principal Kathy Roberson and Haven teachers supervised the walkout but did not join it, adhering to District 65 guidelines that prohibit staff from engaging in political activity on school property.
But the faculty extended their support to the octet of eighth-grade organizers known as the Leadership Group, who planned and carried out the program.
The Group formed when teachers chose Henry Bush, Jake Chiss, Eva Eiseman, Laila Green, Michelle Ogungbemi, Noa Polish, Nia Powell, and Tim Russell to attend a seminar at the Holocaust Museum and Education Center on Student Leadership Day. “It was really an inspiring field trip,” Henry said. “We all learned a lot about organizing.”
Afterward, the eight started meeting over lunch, looking for ways to use their skills to benefit the school. They began to appreciate, Henry said, how “interesting it was to be with others who see themselves as leaders” and how, he added with affection, working with a committee of chiefs “made it easier and also harder.”
Shaken by the Florida murders (“It could be anyone,” Henry said), the group seized on the idea of “doing something about gun violence,” Nia said.
They drafted a letter to parents, calling the Florida shooting “a slap in the face for us.” They expressed their desire to “stress the importance of school safety” and asked the parents’ cooperation in an optional walkout.
Parents could help, the memo suggested, by encouraging their students to make posters; by having conversations about school safety; by driving along Green Bay during the walkout, showing solidarity by honking and/or displaying signs; and by voting for real change.
The student leaders gave a presentation on the event to every Haven class. Organizing the talks – and the walkout – was complicated by the PARCC testing schedule. But in the end, Henry said, their work paid off: their fellow students were “behind it.”
The walkout was not an excuse for civil disobedience. Deferring to the testing, Haven walked out at 1:30 p.m. instead of at the 10:30 a.m. hour observed nationwide.
There were no shenanigans. Student leaders opened the doors at 1:30 sharp, and participants streamed out onto the basketball court behind the school. Principal Roberson estimated that well over 700 of the school’s 850 students chose to walk in the optional event.
The organizers took turns at the mic. In authoritative, steady voices, they guided (“Find your sign by grade level”) and praised (“Good work, everyone”) the crowd. Calm prevailed; participants knew what to expect.
They paraded around the block with signs held high, then circled the basketball court until instructed to move up and sit down near the back steps that were the day’s stage. Everyone knew what was coming.
It was a quiet and appreciative audience that heard Bernard Jones recite from memory his searing poem, “Eyes.” New to poetry writing this year, the eighth-grader has already participated in Louder Than a Bomb, a Chicago-based youth poetry slam that is the largest in the world. “…What starts with the letter E,” Bernard queried, “How about enough/Enough one-eyed monster roaming the streets worldwide waiting…”
Then a poised Isabella Victorson took the microphone to deliver Pink’s “What About Us?” accompanied by a guitar track she had laid down earlier. In a strong, clear voice she reproached a generation for failing “a billion beautiful hearts,” singing, “What about all the broken ever afters? What about love? What about trust? What about us?” and lamenting, “…we came when you called/But then you fooled us, enough is enough.”
The moment of silence that concluded the program was so profound even the traffic noise seemed muffled.
A band of middle-school leaders walked out and showed they have what it takes to conceive and manage a potentially unwieldy event: enough optimism, enough persistence, enough love. And, they hope, enough power and influence to stop gun violence.
By Bernard Jones
Pistols have one eye
Humans have two
We use our two to properly point that one
everyone sees things differently
To some people guns can be a satisfactory savior
To others it’s an abomination against civilization
putting holes in our nation
Politicians see guns as a way to help people but will
fine you for not having a FOID card
Florida sees guns as a threat
It stopped 17 hearts from beating now they
beat on the doors of capitol hill begging for change
Instead they change the locks
Locking out opinions they see the 2nd amendment
and stand with it but when that was written
I guarantee Guns weren't firing 45 rounds per minute
How many caskets have to go into our ground until we
can bury the thought of a shooting
News crews shooting live at shootings interviewing
scared and confused children
Confused because when it happened they were going
over the alphabet
Then the ARs and AKs came through
it’s funny cause it goes A B C D damn
Bullets fly like little kids’ imagination trying to think
of what starts with the letter E
How about enough
Enough one eyed monster roaming streets worldwide
Be Careful/Cause the moment you see one your life
could flash before your eyes
And be careful/Anyone could be a terrorist
Excuse me I’m sorry
I’m not suppose to call ’em that
I’m suppose to call ’em “mental” and let it roll off my
back but it keeps coming back to me
How’d he get that gun
I’ll take a guess and say that it was less than his
His therapist started charging double and guns were
I’m sorry to everyone who was a victim mentally or
But eyes tell stories mouths could never repeat
And if a shooting were to be repeated near Trump or
his family he’d try to change the law the same day
Days go by not knowing
Whose gun will go off
Who the bullets will sink into
And whose heart will stop beating
So until there’s a law change we’ll continue to beat on
Cause as of right now
They’re not seeing it from our eyes