Yesterday our entire elementary school joined thousands of others around the nation in a 17 minute walkout. And the children’s response inspired me.
Like many, The February 14, 2018 school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, cut me to the core. Shock. Disbelief. Grief.
And a lot of anger.
But I was heartened by the children’s response. The survivors were demanding action, and when they didn’t see it in adults, they organized a “walkout” for 17 minutes–one minute for each life lost in Parkland.
On Monday I was surprised to receive a letter from our superintendent stating that we would support these efforts. The entire Santa Maria-Bonita School District of 17,123 students would participate. We received instructions that we should embrace the differences in opinion, views, and perspective and thus lead organized options for our students to participate, or not, in the walkout.
Our administrators drafted several age appropriate letters for teachers to recite before the event. I fought back tears as I read, “You might have heard about the tragic incident that happened at a high school in Florida a few weeks ago. There was a troubled young man, who entered the school with the intent to hurt as many students as he could. On this day, 17 students lost their lives. Many schools across the country are deeply saddened and frustrated that something like this could happen. The students at the high school where this happened have been working hard to change laws in their state that would make it more difficult to purchase a gun, along with asking that those who can buy guns be screened carefully for mental illness.
The students are also saying that people who might be unstable or have the desire to hurt others, should not be allowed to purchase guns. While we all may have different ideas about what should happen, we all agree that our schools should be a safe place.
In order to support this message we asked that everyone wear the color orange today, and we are also going to participate in the 17 Minute National School Walkout. During our school’s walkout we are going to give you three options to express your feelings. (1)
You may stand quietly in the amphitheater as a sign of silent protest. (2) You may march with your classmates around the perimeter of our playground. Organized marches have been held many times in our history to create awareness and change. Today, many students across our country are choosing to take the hand of someone who might be lonely, so that we all have someone to walk with. (3) Or, you may take his time to just be a kid, which is what we think every child should be able to do, and play on our playground for an extra 17 minutes today.
Regardless of your choice, please be especially mindful of why we are doing this today. This is about making a statement, that schools should be safe from violence.”
Then we went out to the playground. Some children wore self-affirming signs. Others marched. Most played.
Then there was a group in the amphitheater standing in silence. I joined them. Around me were bowed heads and pained faces A single chain of hands linked teachers and students. I gave gentle hugs and exchanged looks acknowledging the tragedy with our eyes. The crowd grew.
As more of my students came up by my side, feelings of pride joined the sadness of the event. They could be playing yet kids as young as six were standing to remember the fallen seventeen. At the same time, I couldn’t help but imagine these shining faces falling before the horrific gunfire like those beautiful souls in Parkland.
Those seventeen minutes moved me to a place I cannot completely describe. A place where I was one with those around me. One with the community and one with our nation.
Praying for change.