Students against gun violence rallying for racial justice

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Among the thousands of activists who have marched in the nation’s capital recently to protest racial injustice are survivors of a Florida high school massacre who stood in the very same place two years ago to fight gun violence.

It was 2018 and the world was transfixed as the survivors of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland created the anti-gun violence movement March for Our Lives. The movement raised millions of dollars, earned the students the Children’s Peace Prize and the cover of Time magazine, and spawned sister marches from California to Japan.

Now, Aalayah Eastmond, Christle Vidor and many other Parkland students are using their fame and organizing skills to join a massive call for racial justice and equality that has exploded across the nation after the death of George Floyd last month in Minneapolis.

“There are Black people dying and it makes no sense for us to be losing our lives to violence like this, so either we can sit back and be complacent or we can do something about it,” said Vidor, 19, now a student at Howard University.

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Early in their activism, the Parkland students gave voice to racial justice issues, calling attention to gun violence in low-income communities and in return, receiving support from Black Lives Matter youth chapters. BLM members joined the Florida students onstage during a nationally televised rally in Washington, D.C., and the two groups bonded over a poolside pizza party. Later, the students partnered with Colors of Change and other Black activist groups to rally young voters to participate in the 2018 midterm elections.

Still, the anti-gun violence group recently acknowledged that it wasn’t enough, saying the recent protests helped reveal that their organization lacked diversity.

“We have worked so tirelessly in the last couple of years to restructure and re-create the narrative that was initially pushed out and to understand our own personal biases,” said organization member and former Parkland student Lauren Hogg, 17. Hogg, who is white, lost friends in the 2018 shooting.

Last year, March for Our Lives established a Youth Congress to include students from other communities affected by gun violence and expanded its youth board seats to include more minorities. They’re also launching a training program on race, equity, inclusion and implicit bias. In addition, chapters of the group around the country have reached out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in its newly revived fight for racial justice after Floyd’s death.

Eastmond, who is Black, was in her Holocaust history class on Valentine’s Day 2018 when the gunman opened fire, killing several of her classmates. She survived by hiding under one of their bodies.

One of the students who testified before Congress after the shooting, Eastmond said it was “extremely frustrating” to watch Blacks and other people of color being generally excluded from the post-Parkland conversation about gun violence.

“As a young Black girl that survived a mass shooting at an affluent high school that was predominantly white, it played a huge role in my activism,” said the 19-year-old, who just finished her freshman year at Trinity Washington University.

“I unapologetically speak out for Black people and I no longer bite my tongue. … I found myself doing that a lot at (Stoneman Douglas), being the only Black girl in my classes.”

Vidor, who is also African American, said she had never experienced gun violence before the Parkland shooting, which she calls her “wake-up moment.” She said she was shocked when many classmates at Howard told her gun violence was a normal part of their lives.

Hogg, whose 20-year-old brother David Hogg was one of the premier voices of the March for Our Lives movement when it began, has also been in D.C., walking dozens of miles almost daily at protests organized by Black Lives Matter. She and many in the organization also are working tirelessly behind the scenes, but are reluctant to draw undue attention to their roles.

“This is not about me,” Hogg said. “This is not about my white organizing friends. This is about radical inequality.”

Delaney Tarr, a white Parkland survivor and co-founder of March For Our Lives, has attended several protests recently organized by Black Lives Matter in Fort Lauderdale, saying she is “confronting overt and covert racism in my own life.”

“Like all my white peers, I have a lot of unlearning, confronting, and relearning to do,” said the 19-year-old college student.

March For Our Lives is also rallying students from its chapters in other states.

Daud Mumin, 19, who is African American, has been marching through the streets of Salt Lake City “in solidarity with Black lives all over the country.”

Tatiana Washington, a Black member of a chapter in Milwaukee, has been holding weekly Zoom calls “for Black youth from all over the country to come together,” while Kelly Choi, a 19-year-old student who participates in the Texas chapter, attended a protest in Houston organized by Floyd’s family, signed petitions and donated money.

“As a non-Black person of color,” Choi said, “I have been trying my best to be an ally.”

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