Several months ago four seventh graders at Our Lady of Hope used gun control as the focus of a joint art project. From that one project, these students organized a rally and on April 20th, 58 students “walked out” of school to stand up for their values. When asked why, one student simply said, “Guns just aren’t right.”
How did they feel during their protest? “Really good,” said one. And after? Everyone joined in singing the Prayer of Saint Francis. It was a meaningful day for the students who conceived of and led the rally, one that was encouraged and supported by the school’s administration and teachers.
The day began with a middle school assembly to talk about the walk out. (Students who chose not to participate were supported with as much encouragement and understanding as the protesters.) After the assembly the kids walked a few blocks to McDonalds, where they stood on the corner of 43rd Street and Rainbow Boulevard, chanting and waving posters. The chant—Don’t Build a Wall, Change the Gun Law—were the student’s own words. 46 posters—also student-conceived and designed—were made and waved. A McDonald’s customer bought all participating kids a soft drink.
When asked about the experience, the students shared their excitement when cars honked and held thumbs-up in support. They also talked about other onlookers who were angry and felt the need to shout diminishing epitaphs and brandish negative gestures. What did they do then, they were asked. “We got louder”, they responded proudly.
During the assembly earlier in the day, the students were wisely coached to not engage with negativity. In fact, this lesson alone could have been the focus of the march itself. Because, they shared, how we respond to what happens to us reflects what we value and are willing to stand for. These students value peace. They stood up and walked out to proclaim the value of peace in their classrooms, and the world.
Before heading back to school for another assembly—which provided a safe space for the kids to discuss and process the day with teachers—they all joined in a moment of silence.
Why April 20th? It was the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School, resulting in 15 deaths. Since then guns have continued to cut young lives short. From Sandy Hook Elementary to Virginia Tech to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (and sadly, others), gun violence against young lives continues. This past month, 58 youngsters in a Kansas City Missouri Catholic school decided to say the shootings need to stop. So they made a plan. “We all did,” said one young man. Moreover, they all followed through.