Two groups of students at Elkin High School gathered at the football field as part of the National School Walkout demonstrations advocating for increased school safety and honoring those who died a month ago in a Parkland, Florida, high school shooting.
The local high school ended up with two groups participating in the walkout separately after one student didn’t fully agree with all of the points of some of the other students leading the initial walkout. As students gathered on the football field and track far enough away not to interrupt the other’s speeches and activities, administrators, teachers and officers with Elkin Police Department observed from a distance to ensure the demonstrations remained peaceful.
As the two groups of high-schoolers met, chants of “no more violence” could be vaguely heard coming from the top of the hill at Elkin Middle School as those students held a demonstration of their own.
Taylor Smith, one of the walkout organizers, opened one group’s gathering by naming nine victims from a number of school shootings, including Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Stoneman Douglas High School, Red Lake Senior High School and the University of Texas.
“This is just a very short list of the hundreds of children, students, parents and teachers killed at violent shootings nationwide,” Smith said. “Words cannot describe how their families must feel, knowing that that last day they looked at their loved one before their normal day of school, work, that it would be their last.
“With the power and the unity of students across our country, we have a chance to change that, and make our voices known. Let us use this time for not only remembering the 17 innocent lives lost at the horrific shooting at Douglas High School, but to remember the 1,077 lives taken and the thousands of survivors left with devastating injuries since 1966,” she said.
She wanted students to realize that Elkin High School “can become one of the dozens of schools and campuses across the nation that has been affected by gun violence, if we don’t take a stand.”
“We are here today because of unity, not because of the hate between our classmates,” Smith said. “We are here today to show that we want a change in our schools, that Elkin High Schoolers deserve to be safe while getting our education.”
“It is not taking away rights. It is about shielding the vulnerable and defenseless. It is about protecting mothers, fathers, teachers, daughters, coaches, sons, lovers, friends, and every individual that brings something authentic to this planet,” said Sierra Moses as she addressed the students. “Let’s look wickedness in the eye and stand together to preserve the hearts of the innocent. We can no longer tolerate this intolerance.”
She said when the founding fathers adopted the second amendment in 1791, they “never envisioned brutality would come to this.”
“Can we agree it is outdated?” Moses said of the amendment providing the right to bear arms. “There’s no excuse, no reason to support the easy distribution of semi-automatic rifles made with power to harm humans.”
While one or two students in the group spoke out about the need for gun control, most of the students simply encouraged their classmates to make a point to hug one another, to reach out to someone who might be having a bad day in an effort to encourage them and lift their spirits, and to speak out when they see someone being treated unfairly.
“Walk up to someone, hug them, tell them you love them,” one student said.
“I’m on the Elkin High School shooting team,” explained another. “It is the people behind the weapon that is the problem.”
The problem of violence comes, she said, “with someone who says something and no one speaks up.”
“We need to ask, ‘Are you having a good day?’ Walk up to everyone to make sure they’re having an OK day. That is all it takes to make someone feel better,” another student said.
The second gathering on the track at Elkin High School was organized for those students who didn’t agree with the premise that gun control was the way to approach the school violence issues. April Swarey, an English teacher at Elkin High, said those students, who were organized by student Cole Edwards, were more focused on putting God back in schools, teaching young people to respect authority and addressing mental health issues.
At the end of the 17-minute time of demonstration, the students from both groups walked back up the hill to the school building and back to classes.
Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.