Students against gun violence committed to racial justice

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) – Among the thousands of activists who have recently flocked to the country’s capital to protest racial injustice, survivors of a Florida high school massacre that was in the same spot two years ago to fight gun violence.

It was 2018 and the world was ground to the ground when the survivors of the Valentine’s Day mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland created the March for Our Lives anti-gun movement. 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 organizational skills to participate in a massive call for racial justice and equality that exploded across the country following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.

“Black people are dying and there’s no point in losing our lives to this kind of violence, so we can sit back and be complacent or we can do something about it,” said Vidor, 19, now a student at Howard University.

Early in their activism, the Parkland students voiced racial justice issues, drawing attention to gun violence in low-income communities and receiving support from Black Lives Matter’s youth chapters in return. BLM members joined the Florida students onstage at a nationally televised meeting in Washington, DC, and the two groups tied themselves to a poolside pizza party. Later, the students teamed up with Colors of Change and other black activist groups to bring together young voters to participate in the 2018 midterm elections.

Still, the anti-gun violence group recently recognized that it was not enough, saying the recent protests helped reveal their organization lacked diversity.

“We have worked so tirelessly in recent years to restructure and recreate the story that was initially brought 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 set up a youth conference to include students from other communities involved in gun violence and expand the seats of youth boards to more minorities. They also launch a training program on race, equality, inclusion and implicit bias. Additionally, chapters from the group across the country have reached out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in its revived struggle for racial justice after Floyd’s death.

Eastmond, who is black, was in her Holocaust history lesson on Valentine’s Day 2018 when the shooter opened fire and killed some of her classmates. She survived by hiding under one of their bodies.

One of the students who testified before Congress after the shooting said it was “extremely frustrating” to see blacks and other colored people generally excluded from the post-Parkland conversation about gun violence.

“As a young black girl who survived a mass shooting at a thriving high school, it played a big part in my activism,” said the 19-year-old, who just finished her freshman year at Trinity Washington University.

“I speak out brazenly for black people and I don’t bite my tongue anymore. … I found myself doing that a lot with (Stoneman Douglas), the only black girl in my classes. “

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

Hogg, whose 20-year-old brother David Hogg was one of the main voices of the March for Our Lives movement when it started, has also been in DC and walked tens of miles at protests organized by Black Lives Matter almost daily. She and many in the organization also work tirelessly behind the scenes, but are reluctant to draw excessive 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 hosted by Black Lives Matter in Fort Lauderdale, saying she “confronts open and hidden racism in my own life.”

“Like all my white peers, I have to unlearn, confront, and relearn a lot,” said the 19-year-old student.

March For Our Lives also gathers students from chapters in other states.

19-year-old African-American Daud Mumin marches through the streets of Salt Lake City “in solidarity with black lives across the country.”

Tatiana Washington, a black chapter member in Milwaukee, had weekly Zoom calls “to bring black youth from around the country together,” while Kelly Choi, a 19-year-old student participating in the chapter in Texas, lived a protest in Houston organized by the Floyd family, signed petitions and donated money.

“As a non-black person of color,” said Choi, “I did my best to be an ally.”

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