High school students throughout Richmond staged walkouts in unison with a nationwide March 14 in response to the Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School shooting one month before. The walkout lasted 17 minutes as an homage to each of the students and staff who lost their lives.
Students at Richmond Community High School’s protest commemorated the Parkland shooting by reading biographies of each victim followed by moments of silence, citing statistics about gun violence in schools, and honoring the lost lives to gun violence since the Valentine’s Day attack.
“I understand that peace begins with me,” chanted the RCHS students, “and I will do my best to make sure that our school stays safe.”
Student organizers at RCHS Emmaline Clark and Ariana Shahidi explained the walkouts represented the start of something beautiful — change.
“We all have a role in our community to be peaceful,” Clark said. “When we come together with that peaceful mindset, it creates an environment of anti-violence.”
Shahidi expressed her concerns that if the current gun legislation does not change, one day she could become a victim, too.
“It just really breaks my heart every single time thinking about how those students and teachers say goodbye to their families for what would be the last time,” she said. “When my mom comes and kisses me goodbye when I’m still in bed in the morning, it’s hard to think that one day that could be the last time my mom says bye to me.”
Students also vocalized their concerns about the legality of military-style and assault weapons available to people as young as 18.
“[Change] starts with common sense gun laws,” Shahidi said. “No one in America needs to have an AR-15 military style rifle in general. And to legally obtain it at age 19 is out of hand.”
Richmond Public Schools, in a recent statement, encouraged students who have stepped up in their roles as young activists. However, their main concern was student safety during the protests. RPS, along with other school districts in the area, disciplined students who participated in the protest with an unexcused absence.
“While we wholeheartedly respect every individual’s right to peaceful assembly and free expression,” the statement read, “our top priority is to provide a safe teaching and learning environment for all.”
VCU spokesperson Michael Porter reassured that VCU’s stance on the national walkouts is in support of students who participated, even if they may have been disciplined.
“VCU’s mission is one that embraces diversity of ideas and critical thinking, and our students are encouraged to challenge the norm,” Porter said. “Therefore, VCU welcomes applications from individuals who have exercised their rights to engage in peaceful protest and thoughtful dialogue.”
Nia Tariq, Staff Writer