More than 5,000 students and community members across the state participated in the “RPS Non-Violence March on the Capitol” March 24 in conjunction with the national March for Our Lives protest.
The marches were organized in response to the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and faculty members dead.
The student-led march began at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School where Mayor Levar Stoney and Sen. Tim Kaine spoke in support of student activists and in favor of gun reform.
Richmond Public Schools, in partnership with several other Richmond organizations, including Moms Demand Action-RVA, the Richmond Peace Education Center and the NAACP-RVA, organized the march.
“It’s disgusting that (the government) allows these weapons that are hurting children to be handled by anybody who can legally purchase them,” said Maddie Cassidy, an eighth-grader at Tuckahoe Middle School who marched Saturday.
Marchers made their way to the Virginia State Capitol, walking nearly a mile and a half.
“I don’t feel like I’m safe sometimes when I go to school,” said Campbell Jebo, fifth grader at Tuckahoe Elementary. “It’s kind of scary to think that I’m going to school, but maybe I won’t come home today. I don’t think that’s fair.”
One sign read “My friends and I want diplomas, not bullet wounds.”
“This isn’t the America they taught us about,” said Darien Wyatt, freshman at the University of Richmond and member of the Richmond Peace Education Center. “This isn’t the America of life, liberty and happiness.”
Members of the Richmond Peace Education Center remembered the lives lost to gun violence in Richmond and surrounding counties last year, reading their names and holding a moment of silence in their honor. After the moment of silence, a member of the Richmond Peace Education Center asked the crowd who had lost someone to gun violence to raise their hand — about one in every six hands in the crowd rose.
“Enough is enough,” said executive director of ACLU Virginia, Claire Guthrie Gastañaga.
Gastañaga urged the crowd to show up in elections, emphasizing voting as the key to moving forward. Currently, one in five people between the ages of 18 and 29 vote, she said, and that needs to change.
“We need to stop privileging some voters over others,” Gastañaga said. “We have to vote the change we want to see and it’s time for us to all share the right to vote.”
Attendees chanted “Vote Them Out” as Gastañaga finished speaking.
The RPS Non-Violence March closed with a student’s rendition of Charlie Puth’s “See You Again.” As the marchers thinned out, hundreds of signs were left by the Capitol and hung around the George Washington Statue.
“Kids should feel safe when they go to school,” said VCU freshman Kyra Byers. “(They shouldn’t) feel like they’re going to die.”
Saffeya Ahmed, Staff Writer