For National School Walkout Day, thousands of kids left their classrooms and gathered as a community to remember the 17 lives lost in the Parkland school shooting and to fight for gun reform so these incidents will never happen again.
At the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women, whose STEP team performed at the 2018 MAKERS Conference, more than 80 high school girls marched out of their classrooms and down to City Hall to show their solidarity. Organized by 10th grader Isis Ayers, 15, the march was her memo to politicians and policymakers to stop and listen.
When she learned about new policy proposals that would allow teachers to conceal and carry weapons in schools, Isis was having none of it. "This issue affects us more than adults," she says. "If somebody rolls up to a school and starts shooting kids, it affects us more. So if kids get up and say something about how they feel, then maybe the president, or the senator, or somebody might see us and say, maybe schools are not a place for guns."
Here, she shares her story about why she organized her school's walkout and why "I'm never going to give up."
At 2pm, I was in health class as time was ticking down and I was getting nervous. At 2:14, I went downstairs to the front of the school and saw Principal Easton waiting for me next to other teachers who feel that guns have no place in our schools. There was an announcement that came on over the loudspeaker that said that if you are joining our school's walkout, then come downstairs.
I got anxious waiting to see who would come.
Soon I saw more than 80 of my BLSYW sisters walking down the stairs, all ready to support me. When I first walked out of the building with all of them behind me, I felt powerful. I felt like I had made a change.
Our march was about 20 minutes. When we were walking towards City Hall, there were cars honking at us and people waving. There were correctional officers coming out of their building chanting for us also. People were taking pictures and videos of us. We were trending on Baltimore Twitter.
We had our own chants: Guns down, books up! Guns are not welcome here! This is what democracy looks like!
When we got to City Hall, the moment that I'll never forget is when we stood in a circle and I started to say thank you for coming and everyone clapped for me. I see my sisters come together often, but this is the time where I feel as though our voices were really heard.
The Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women walkout actually started because Isis's voice was overheard.
Two weeks ago, I was just talking to my classmates about how other schools in our city had walked out and marched to City Hall. I thought maybe we could do one but I was like "we can't do that because we'll get suspended." Then suddenly Principal Easton came over because you know, when principals hear "suspended" they are like "well, what are you talking about?" So I had to go to her office and explain that I want to do a walkout. I talked to her first because I didn't want anyone to get a discipline action for participating. And I had to tell her so when she sees her kids just walking out of the building, she knows what's happening.
So Principal Easton and our student support team leader, Ms. Watkins—they helped me with planning. I learned exactly what I needed to do. I had to make sign-up sheets. I had to make posters. I had to get everybody permission slips and I had to get parent consents and all that. Before I handed those out, people thought I was joking when I said I'm going to do a walkout.
Gun reform, however, is not a joke for Isis or the thousands of other students who took part in the National Walkout on March 14.
After the Parkland school shooting we heard the president wanted to create a law to put guns in schools. I said to myself oh no, guns do not have a place in schools. Even if they're just trying to protect us, kids may get a hold of them. And I don't want to be in a school where teachers are shooting. I care about the safety of my BLSYW sisters. I can't stop somebody from trying to come here and hurt us, but I can stop somebody who is already in the building from hurting us.
It's important for students to speak up because it was a march for us to even get here. For schools to be mixed with white and black kids, we had to march for that. Knowing where we have come from, I feel like we should just go further. If we just sit around and wait for somebody to change something then I don't feel as though it's ever going to come. There were some kids saying I don't want to do it or it would take too much time. But I am going to put time and effort into this issue because it might pay off this time.
I'm really proud of what we did and how it turned out. The entire experience made me feel more like a leader. I used to be the child who was once disrespectful, and my voice was not used in a good way. But this is a time where my voice is being used in a good way and I'm doing good things with it.
For more information on the Baltimore Leadership School for Young Women click here.