On February 14, 17 people were killed in the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students and three staff members lost their lives that day. One would expect such a tragedy to be an anomaly, a horrible and unlikely devastation that had never occurred before and would never occur again. However, in the world we live in, mass shootings and other acts of gun violence have become something to expect. But, people are not okay with what has become our reality. From this horror came something beautiful and powerful as survivors of the shooting could not accept that this was to be just another headline.
On March 21, March for Our Lives marches and rallies took place all over the nation. One of the most powerful things about the March for Our Lives was that it was, and continues to be, a youth-led movement. Full of determination, young people were the ones not only marching, but also organizing and speaking. Mirroring other grassroots movements including the Women’s March, the March for Science, and the March for Climate Action, the youth of America realized they did not have to wait to be adults to be heard and to make change —they could make change right now.
As I was preparing to participate in the march and rally in Boston, I was scared. I did not know what to expect, and I did not know how I should act, but one lesson I have learned from Roots & Shoots over the years is that change is not easy. Change requires you to be brave, to step out of your comfort zone, to listen to people’s voices, and to literally march for what you believe in. When I joined the march and as I held my sign, I felt empowered to be a part of this fiercely hopeful movement with so many people marching together for a singular cause. When they called everyone under 25 to move to the front, I saw how many young people were out demanding for the change they wanted to see. Although both emotional and intense, the most powerful part of the day was the hope that was evident by everyone out there determined to be heard.
Being there made me very proud and grateful to be a part of Roots & Shoots as a program that empowers youth to make positive change in their communities every day. It is amazing to know that we are all a part of history in the making.”
Jane Goodall Institute intern Christina Burt attended the march held in Washington, D.C. She remarked about the day, “I don’t think I will ever forget my experience. Every single speech was more powerful than the last, and each story was communicated in a unique, personal way that will stick with me forever. Being there made me very proud and grateful to be a part of Roots & Shoots as a program that empowers youth to make positive change in their communities every day. It is amazing to know that we are all a part of history in the making.”
This movement was not merely about shootings that take place in schools, but about all victims of gun violence. Constantly under-reported and under-supported are victims of gun violence who are people of color. Young Black men and women have been at the front of similar movements without the same coverage and support for many years. Roots & Shoots U.S. National Youth Leadership Council Member René Jameson shares her thoughts on this blatant inequality:
“Students of color in areas such as Washington D.C. and Chicago have been limited and assaulted by gun violence for decades, but their pleas for change rarely made the national media nor did they receive much T.V. coverage. I question the difference in treatment of these overlapping issues and why minorities cannot also receive the support of their country when they continue to be persecuted and slaughtered. The core of both issues of March For Our Lives and Black Lives Matter, is the need for greater and sensible gun control and to prevent more innocent loss of life. We need to reflect and question why we will not tolerate children being shot in schools, but not black children, and adults, on the street, in their backyard, in their predominantly Black schools?”
Youth are at the helm of movements like this around the world, and it is not limited to gun violence. These young people, many inspired and invigorated by the teachings, service learning and community of Roots & Shoots to continue to put pressure on their government officials to hold them accountable. Whether regulations be passed on the federal, state, or local level, it is up to all of us to exercise our political power to show those in power what we care about. Roots & Shoots National Youth Leadership Council Alumni, Anthony Vargus, is doing just that through his petition to the New York City Department of Education for more peer-to-peer mentoring programs in schools. Marching (whether it be for Our Lives, for Science, for Women’s Rights, or for Climate Action), signing petitions, and registering to vote are just a few ways that youth are indicating to officials what they want to happen. This is one way we can create change.
On February 14, a tragedy occurred. One month later, determined and hopeful young people from across the country came together in pursuit of the same goal. This is what Roots & Shoots is all about – young people making change right now. Our power is as limitless as our minds. The differences we dream for are as real as we make them to be – right now.
The Jane Goodall Institute is a global community conservation organization that advances the vision and work of Dr. Jane Goodall. By protecting chimpanzees and inspiring people to conserve the natural world we all share, we improve the lives of people, animals and the environment. Everything is connected—everyone can make a difference.