‘Today is the day we say enough’
Newark students join national walkout against gun violence
Hundreds of Newark students walked out of class Wednesday morning to honor the victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and call on state and federal officials to take action to prevent further gun violence.
The walkouts coincided with dozens of similar protests in Delaware and thousands nationwide held in response to the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.
“We’re going to be safe in our society, because we’re not going to stand for it anymore,” Newark Charter School senior Dounya Ramadan said. “Today is the day we say enough.”
Ramadan helped coordinate the student-led walkouts statewide and said she and her classmates are frustrated that political leaders have not taken action in the wake of several mass shootings at Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Parkland and elsewhere.
“It could have happened
to us. It could have happened to anyone in this state, anyone in this nation, and it continues to happen over and over and over again,” Ramadan said. “The list keeps getting longer, tragedy keeps on going, and we have not taken action. It’s been too long.”
At Newark Charter, a couple hundred students streamed out of the building at 10 a.m. and gathered outside the school. As three Newark Police officers kept watch, the students held signs calling for gun control.
The walkout was intended to last 17 minutes – in honor of the 17 Parkland victims – but it actually lasted a bit longer as several students made speeches. Others sang “Amazing Grace” and read the names of the Parkland victims.
Eighth-grader Kelley Laurenceau said she used to feel safe going to school but the school shooting in Florida left her feeling an “underlying sense of panic” when she walks through the door at NCS.
“No kid my age, older or younger should ever have to be afraid for their life when they walk into school,” Laurenceau said. “No kid should feel their heart skip a beat when they hear the intercom turn on. No kid should have the thought that school shootings are something acceptable in this country, let alone common.”
She said she believes students have a chance to usher in a turning point on gun control in America.
“This is the type of stuff that makes the history books that sit under your desks right now in class,” she said. “Though it may seem like adults have all the power in the world, we are the ones who have the future in our hands. It’s in your jurisdiction to decide what world you want to live in and what world you want your children to grow up in.”
Ramadan said the protest has already attracted the attention of local politicians. She and student leaders from other schools have been invited to meet with Gov. John Carney and state legislators.
“Today, you made your voices heard,” she told her classmates Wednesday morning. “You have been heard, and we’re going to take all your ideas to Dover.”
Meanwhile at Newark High School, students walked a lap around the building while chanting slogans and holding signs.
The walkout was organized by student government members Meadow Favuzzi, Maria Yea and Rebecca Alexander.
“Ever since Columbine, there’s been more and more mass shootings and there hasn’t been anything done about it, and we can’t take it anymore,” Yea said. “Students are afraid to go to school. Students should never be afraid of what should be a safe place. We need to call this situation out to the government so they can do something about it.”
The passion of the students was on full display as they flooded out of the doors and banded together, many holding hands as they walked, with police guarding the fringes of the build-
ing. For the organizers, they saw the national walkout as a civic duty.
“I think we’re doing something that we have a responsibility to do,” Favuzzi said. “If I don’t walk out, I’m doing my school an injustice.”
The Parkland shooting hit home for Favuzzi because she shares a first name with one of the victims, 18-yearold Meadow Pollack.
“I thought about her and what we had in common, and I’m sick of children dying and nothing being done,” she said.
Like many other high school kids around the nation, the youth stepped up to help plan the whole event, and ran an announcement over the intercom explaining the meaning behind it all and what they were setting out to achieve.
“I wish we didn’t have to step up,” Alexander said. “I wish the adults of our country could have taken care of this by themselves like they were appointed to, but something has to be done. We can’t live with this.”
Across town at Downes Elementary School, fifthgraders stood silently along Casho Mill Road while holding signs.
“After Parkland, we had a lockdown drill,” teacher Lisa Lemmon explained. “And the kids came to us and asked ‘We don’t understand why someone would come in and want to hurt us. What can we do?’”
The kids had all seen posts about the national walkout on Facebook and after talking it over with their teacher, decided it would be a good idea to participate.
“We just finished learning about the Bill of Rights and our first amendment rights to speech and protest,” student Andrew Bradley said.
Participation was voluntary and limited to fifth-graders, Lemmon said. Parental permission was required.
“We wanted to honor the kids that died in the Florida school shooting,” said student Sydney Brand. “We agreed this would be the right thing to do.”
For Lemmon, the priority was making sure the kids knew that school is supposed to be safe, and if changes need to be made, their voices matter in the national conversation as well.
“We want to convey to the kids that this is their safe place, and we’re here to protect them and educate them, but we have a lot of dialogue in the classroom,” she said. “We talked about how, since this is their first protest, you should be passionate about what you’re protesting.”
After receiving a thumbs up and resounding honks from passersby, Lemmon looked out across the line of students down the sidewalk.
“I’ve never been more proud of any of you as a teacher,” she told them. “This is a day all of us will never forget.”
For many of the students, they knew that their message was loud and clear. “It shows people that even though we’re kids, we have a voice, and for any other kids out there, let your voices be heard,” student Katie Hanich said.
When asked what they stood for, student Riley Hessey-Attarian had a simple answer.
“We stand to end gun violence,” he said.
Students at the Newark Center for Creative Learning also held a walkout. They sang protest songs as they marched to South College Avenue, where they linked arms and stood in silence for 17 minutes.
“Some students participated to honor the victims of the Parkland school shooting, and some were there to call for Congress to pass meaningful gun regulation; some were there for both reasons,” Administrative Director Bette Balder said. “NCCL is proud of our students for sharing their voices.”
Newark Charter School senior Dounya Ramadan organized Wednesday’s walkout.
Newark Charter School students participate in a walkout on Wednesday to call for an end to gun violence.
Newark High School students participate in Wednesday’s walkout.
Downes Elementary School students line Casho Mill Road during Wednesday’s walkout.