Chattanooga Student Leaders Plan Action Against Gun Violence

Sunday, February 25, 2018 - by Jessica Kramer
- photo by Jessica Kramer

Students from across Hamilton County gathered at 901 Lindsay St. on Sunday to discuss the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and make plans to take action against gun violence.

The student leaders decided to encourage local participation in the National School Walkout on March 14 and the March for Our Lives event on March 24.

The group’s next meeting will be held next Sunday from 3-5 p.m. at 300 West 6th Street, next to Chattanooga Workspace. Any local students, educators, and parents are invited.

On Sunday evening, several schools were represented, such as The McCallie School, Girls Preparatory School, Baylor School, Chattanooga High School Center for Creative Arts, Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences, Brown Academy, Sequoyah High School, Normal Park Elementary School, and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

Clay Thomas and Laura Becker, local pastors and parents, hosted the meeting, intending to create a space for students to come together, discuss the issue, and organize their efforts.

“We want you to lead, because a lot of us have tried unsuccessfully to change,” said Pastor Thomas, addressing the students in attendance. “It’s gonna be you all that are gonna be the turning point.”

The meeting opened with a solemn, candle lighting memorial to honor the victims of gun violence across America. After this, students divided into small groups to discuss how Chattanooga youth might make a positive change. They later came together to share their ideas. Suggestions included visiting elected officials, sending letters and making calls to legislators, making T-shirts, encouraging their schools to participate in more safety drills, and supporting candidates in local elections who run on platforms dedicated to change.

Abby, a fourth grader from Normal Park Elementary School, said she was happy she got to have a voice.

“We’re just scared,” she said.

When asked how children could make a difference, she replied, “We have more creative minds.”

Allen, a senior at The McCallie School, said the students recognize that many people have different views on how to solve gun violence, but that the purpose of the group is simply to draw attention to the issue.

“We really want to make our voices heard for our legislators,” he said.  “Right now is the time for us to be taking some actions. ...  What happened on February 14 was an incident of gun violence at a school. We’re very much affected by this issue.”

Gabby, a junior from Sequoyah High School, emphasized the importance of students voicing their opinions.

“We are the next generation of leaders, and what we think matters,” she said. “We need this to stop. We’ve lost so many lives.”

Many adults, both educators and parents, attended the meeting, as well. For the most part, they simply observed and offered assistance in the form of snacks, markers, and poster paper.

Rebecca Westbrook Toker, a parent from St. Elmo, pointed out that none of the children in school now have ever been in school at a time when gun violence wasn’t a threat.

“This is unacceptable and it needs to change,” she said. “We’re failing, and if our kids are finding their voices and making better sense and better decisions than the adults, than we at least need to support them.”

 

- photo by Jessica Kramer

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