In February, 17 people were killed after a shooter opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Since then, students from the school have spoken out against gun violence on social media, ultimately organizing a march in Washington D.C that drew thousands and galvanized support for gun control.
Ten Parkland students called into the conference to share their experiences with attendees, who ranged from Harvard students to politicians and executive directors of various companies. The students said they hoped to convey the many voices in the #NeverAgain movement, especially those of students of color, whom they said have so far not comprised the focus of the movement.
“There’s been a shared message across many voices at this school. We all share the same message, and we want to tell the world,” said Carlos “Carlitos” Rodriguez, a Stoneman Douglas junior. “More than 3,300 students go to Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and we all were affected.”
The group of students that called into the conference is currently working on a campaign to share and broadcast personal stories of gun violence in all situations—stories that may not have appeared in national publications and news outlets. The campaign, called “Stories Untold,” is available on Twitter and Instagram.
A different group of students from Parkland—including Emma González, who has largely become the face of the #NeverAgain movement—visited the Institute of Politics earlier in February.
The students on the conference call said different stories took place in every classroom across Stoneman Douglas.
“I don’t have the words for it,” said Lorena Sanabria, another Stoneman Douglas junior. “It makes you think that at that point where you think you don’t know what’s going on, there were already people lying dead.”
Several conference attendees said they have changed their approach to the movement against gun violence after hearing the students speak.
“For weeks, we have been telling ourselves, we need to get a hold of Emma [González]. Never did it occur to me, there are other Latinos there. It’s Florida for God’s sake,” Lucy Flores, Vice President of Public Affairs at Mitú—a media company that focuses on Latinx perspectives and issues—said. “Your voices are as valuable and as powerful as everybody else’s.”
She added that she is making a “commitment” to feature the students’ stories on a video series for Mitú.
“This isn’t just a moment. This is a movement. We want to propel the ideas that come out of these wonderful people into the culture at large,” Herb Scannell, CEO of Mitú, added.
Sindy M. Benavides, the COO of civil rights organization League of United Latin American Citizens, said the event helped her see the importance of “taking a step back and actually asking them what help they need versus making an assumption of what I can provide.”
“A lot of times you forget that as youth, they also have answers,” Benavides said. “On our end, our job is to make sure we’re helping them harness the creativity and the power they already have.”
Rodriguez is a vlogger, and, amid the chaos that ensued during the shooting, he captured some footage of his experience. Some of that footage depicts students running and hiding. Other students described their fear and uncertainty during the shooting.
“I was on the first floor of the building: room 1213. We could hear shots down the hallway but didn’t really have an idea of what was happening,” said Morgan Williams, a Stoneman Douglas junior. “It was a weird feeling; we were all confused and didn’t know what was going on.”
Four people in Williams’s class were shot. She described having to run past bodies in the hallway to get out of the building.
“Nothing felt real in that moment,” she said.
The students on the call also talked about what happened after the shooting and detailed their activism around the issue of gun violence.
“They should have realized it at Columbine. They should have done something then,” Rodriguez said.
“When all this starts to calm down and people start to forget, I don’t want people to forget,” Williams said. “I want people to still remember what happened and what continues to happen in this country because of gun violence.”
Sanabria said in an interview after the discussion that she laments not having the chance to remind conference attendees to actively continue having conversations.
“Don’t let this be a passing memory because this is very relevant. I mean, look at what happened at Youtube just yesterday. They witnessed a shooting as well.”
A shooter opened fire at YouTube headquarters Tuesday, injuring three and killing herself.
Daniel Tabares, a freshman at Stoneman Douglas, asked, “How are you, Harvard, going to help us and keep this movement going?”
—Staff Writer Andrea M. Bossi can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @bossi147.