When Responsibility Becomes Action
By: Jessica Bagneris, gabrielle Freels, AshLey Gothard, and Nakita Shavers
As educators and advocates in IWES’ positive youth development program, Believe in Youth – Louisiana (BY-LA), we have observed that our students are often faced with the concept of making responsible choices. These decisions often transcend the reproductive health components of their curriculum, as we have witnessed from our students at Morris Jeff Community School, and sometimes relate to their survival and existence in the world. On the first day of every class our students are asked, “When you think of the word responsibility what comes to mind?” They often have a variety of “typical” answers like doing their homework, being kind to their friends, taking care of their siblings, etc. However, the students at Morris Jeff interpreted the question through another lens, by branching outside of themselves to discuss their obligation to do something in the current national gun violence movement.
As students across the country began to speak up about this immensely important topic, some people dismissed their outcries just because they were young people. Based on this response, students began to organize in every state to create a movement that would force political and policy change. The students at Morris Jeff were a part of this national movement and they joined in solidarity with students from across the country in response to the Parkland school shooting to take action at their own school by organizing a walkout. Over the course of the month-long preparation for the student-led Walkout Day, they observed the national debate, researched the issue and found their collective and individual voices in this movement. In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, the students at Morris Jeff took on the responsibility of organizing a school walkout to protect not only themselves but their peers and teachers, as well. They came together to organize the march, program and speeches. They created signs depicting their beliefs and stances on the issue. They researched statistics and laws and worked methodically to understand what they were fighting for. Overall, on top of the day to day responsibilities of being a student, they recognized a responsibility to themselves, their school, and schools across the nation to take a stance and make a bold statement.
This Walkout Day was a massive success! The event was attended by students, community members and IWES staff and it was nothing short of amazing. The program started with a march and protest during which all of the students exited the building from various locations holding signs and chanting, “Enough is Enough!” This was followed by a candlelight vigil honoring all 17 of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School victims, and concluded with some students delivering extremely powerful speeches. In our opinion, these students delivered some of the most touching statements about gun violence in America that we’ve heard so far. They spoke with conviction in their voices and passion in their hearts, bringing much of their audience to tears.
The speakers reflected the diversity of their student population by bringing up a diverse range of issues and viewpoints. They spoke honestly about issues that some adults have failed to address, such as the particular nuances in both depictions of and the reality of gun violence and how it effects every culture and community differently. For example, an 8th grade White female student spoke about mass school shootings typically being committed by White males who claim to be suffering from a mental health issue. She went on to say that those White males who have committed such heinous acts are criminals and should be treated as such. A 7th grade Black female student spoke about how her father was murdered, and how his murder has still not been solved. She went on to explain how the likelihood of her school getting shot up may be low, but that she faces these dangers every single day in her community. It was heartening to hear so many perspectives on this issue, and to see that more and more students are beginning to assume responsibility and exercise their rights by advocating and speaking out.