On February 14, 2018, 17 students and faculty of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida were killed in a senseless shooting. On March 14, exactly one month later, Obama Academy participated in a 17-minute walkout in honor of those that lost their lives on that tragic day.
At 10:00 on the dot, scores of Obama attendees shuffled out of the lone door separating the building from the rest of the world and congregated in the courtyard, their resolve unwavering despite the cold temperatures and biting winds. And although the conditions in Pittsburgh were drastically different than those in Parkland (a pleasant 65 degrees, sun shining), for a brief moment the two cities, and the hundreds of others throughout the country also engaging in protest, were one.
A minute of silence – each and every student joined in common reflection on the current state of gun policy in America – followed by some opening remarks by sophomore Cecil Price III. “Today,” he says, his voice washing over the attentive crowd, “we stand in solidarity in front of our school, wearing the color orange, to let everyone know that we stand together, to let them know that enough is enough.” A solitary voice sounds in support, and soon, much in the spirit of the day, the cry is being echoed throughout the audience. Cecil continues: “As we stand here for 17 minutes, we are honoring the 17 lives that were taken from our fellow young people in an instant, without question….Even though only a few individuals are speaking today, that does not mean that you should not speak upon this topic….Do not let this become a lost file that is never mentioned or looked at ever again. Do not wait until it is too late to give your outlook on the events that occur daily. Do not let this become the norm within our society.”
“We all have a voice,” he concludes. “Speak your mind. If we don’t stand for something, we will fall for everything.” Thunderous applause.
Next, freshman Mecca Lloyd recites a poem she wrote in response to the shooting – her outrage, her disgust, and, perhaps most importantly, her hope: “We are the future and we have a say.”
Mecca is followed by Silas Maxwell Switzer, a sophomore, who reminds everyone of the dangers of complacency. “For far too long we as students have feared for our lives every day and haven’t spoken up,” he declares. “We mourn for a week, maybe two, and nothing is done….These are no longer events that we can just brush off under the guise of a madman. Every single person dead simply becomes a tick mark on a chart. Not anymore….This is where we start.”
The words of Kayla Bryant, read by Cecil per the freshman’s request, warn of the potential consequences of inaction, reinforcing the notion that no one is safe until substantial reform on assault rifle policy is secured: “If we do not do something, there is a chance that our community could be next.”
Lastly, senior Bryce Chissum ends on a positive note, both literally and figuratively, with a beautiful rendition of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”. The song features no shortage of spurring lines, but one is truly piercing: “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity.” After the deafening cheers are finally silenced, there is another minute of silence before regular classes resume.
The Eagle caught up with Silas and Cecil, two of the main organizers behind the occasion, one last time to hear their final thoughts on why the walkout was so important. Said the former, “It is important not only to honor the seventeen lives lost in the Parkland shooting but also to raise awareness and call out the government for not changing gun control laws.” Meanwhile, the latter offered a slightly more pointed take: “After the incident with the Parkland shooting it is important to let the district, faculty, and students know that we will not stand to be in a place where we are supposed to be safe and yet be in fear of our lives being taken away. Our parents put their trust in the school to keep us educated but also out of harm’s way. If the parents can’t even trust the school to keep us safe, then what is the point of us coming?”
While the 17 minutes we dedicated today to promoting legislative intervention of the mass shooting epidemic are undoubtedly important, they are miniscule in the long run; indeed, it is how we spend the countless minutes at our disposal from here on out that will determine the course of the United States as we know it, as well as the legacy of our generation. We have the power to force change. Now the challenge becomes not wasting it.
If you are interested in going to the capital to demand reform from Congress in person, you can visit the March For Our Lives PGH to DC Facebook page here to register for a seat on the bus on March 24. You can also donate to the cause here.
Now is the time to make a difference. Join the movement. Be the straw that breaks the back of the stubborn camel that is our representative body.