For Corinna, a Montclair High School senior, the news of the Parkland shooting felt close to home. A girl she once met is from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and witnessed the violence in her own classroom. Many of Corinna’s classmates know MSD students through a shared summer camp. Corinna, coming from a family where important issues are regularly discussed around the dinner table, naturally brought her thoughts, feelings, and tears home. Fighting the urge to “flee into the woods and wait for everything to burn to the ground,” she chose to channel her anger and sadness into resolve and action. Within a few days, she had created a local Students Demand Action group with the help of a friend as well as initiated conversations in classrooms, sparking students to work together as activists. Corinna helped to organize the upcoming March 14th walkout at MHS. She even called into WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show to share her perspective.
With her three years experience as a Center for Social Justice student at MHS, Corinna feels like she’s been training for this moment. As she prepares for the walkout -- screening student speakers, staying in touch with administration and the media, and making posters -- Corinna keeps in mind the Newark March For Our Lives on March 24 and plans to fundraise and support the Newark students.
On Wednesday, March 14th, Corinna and classmates will walk out. They will rally, they will honor the victims with flowers and posters, and they will speak out. On Thursday the work continues.
Ari, a senior, is helping to organize the National School Walkout on March 14th for Montclair High. He and other students have been in conversation with the administration throughout the planning and were asked not to make the walkout political. Ari says the walkout isn’t meant to be political but intends to honor all victims of gun violence. The Parkland shooting came at an emotional time for him, having just heard of a friend’s suicide -- the second friend to commit suicide in the past year. Knowing that nearly two thirds of gun deaths are suicides, Ari celebrates the portion of the Florida bill which helps keep guns out of the hands of those deemed a danger to themselves or others. He hopes that other states will follow suit. His advice to those interested in joining a movement is to read as much as you can and to educate yourself in order to be a good advocate. “Even though you're right to feel like something has to be done, if you don't know the facts and the history behind it you're just going to be shut down.”
In the days leading up to the National School Walkout, Freshmen Gabi, Anna, and Jadyn passed out hundreds of handmade, orange bracelets to fellow Montclair High students, orange being the color of gun-violence awareness. Like so many aspects of this movement, the color was chosen by youth. In 2015, Chicago teens wore orange to honor their friend Hadiya Pendleton, a victim of gun violence.
Gabi, Anna, and Jadyn are proud of their generation, “So cool! Really badass!” Seeing peers push back against society’s normalization of school shootings inspires them to read, discuss, and figure out how they too can add their voice. “My mom always tells me that your words matter, you have power. Even though you're 14 years old, your voice still matters,” says Gabi.
Anna finds it infuriating to be told, “You don't know what you're talking about. You're too young.” She moved here a year ago from Israel and was surprised when the news of the Parkland shooting wasn’t discussed in classrooms as it would have been at her previous school. “Wow, this is an American public school and no one is even going to be talking about a shooting in an American public school?!” Determined to be taken seriously, she quickly got busy attending meetings and strategizing with friends.
Jadyn has been reading as much as possible on the movement and finds great inspiration in teen voices coming together: “It's just fantastic that students are finally using their voice because their voice always mattered… and now they're using it to try to make a difference and try to do something with the knowledge they have, with the power they have, with their voices. They're not just using one voice -- all of them are coming together and creating these marches, these rallies, these walkouts. It's just totally incredible.”
The walkout accomplished, the young women now turn their energy to an arts project entitled CODE RED: Playwrights Against Gun Violence. Mentored by Luna Stage's incoming Artistic Director, Ari Laura Kreith, the project will include Anna as a producer, director, and actor. It will include Gabi as a writer, director, and actor. The three will also add their voices to the March 24th March For Our Lives, demanding that young lives be protected. Freshmen Gabi, Anna, and Jadyn, like so many of their peers, are showing us all how to make a difference in the world.
“Good morning Montclair High! My name is Carrington Brooks and it is an honor to be able to participate in an event such as this! Today we walk out of our schools to make our voices heard! As students, we should never have to feel unsafe in a school setting; where we are supposed to learn, grow, and find ourselves. I am thrilled that so many of you decided to take action by walking out of your classrooms today! We are the future and this is just one step to our final goal which is safety throughout all schools, no matter what grade or the school location. We have to be the catalyst to make the world a better place!”
As a freshman speaker at Montclair High’s Walkout, Carrington could feel the support. Students listened respectfully as teachers peeked from windows. Parents lined Park Street along with police and members of the wider community. She hadn’t expected such a huge turnout. To Carrington, the moment felt genuine. It felt powerful. “Sometimes we don't realize the impact that a small planning committee has on a whole school… it was really amazing!”
Carrington had worked for this day, attending meetings and spreading the word across her class. She became comfortable with public speaking beginning in middle school where she served as student council president. She enjoys debating, Model Congress and UN. She thought it important that someone like her — young, female, and African American — speak at the rally. Carrington plans to use the experience of the Walkout as a jumping off point to dive more deeply into the workings of our government, its history and how she can apply some of her experiences with sexism and racism in calling for change. “This event that took place is a really good starting point for the future.”
As a Montclair High senior, Alissa wants to leave highschool knowing that her younger cousins will be safe. She doesn’t want to worry if the next lockdown is real. Prompted by her mother to get past tears over the Parkland shooting and to act, Alissa prepared a speech for the National Walkout on March 14th. She spoke of her impatience with the slow pace of gun reform legislation. She called on her fellow students to join the movement of young and old, rich and poor. “By unifying ourselves, we, the people, become an unstoppable force. That is what makes a country strong! That is what makes a nation!”
Activism runs deep in Alissa’s veins. She is the first vice president of the Youth Council of the Montclair Branch NAACP, a S.O.F.I.A member, and one of the leaders of The Million Man March in Montclair. Alissa credits her grandmother, her “pillar,” for her activism and for encouraging her to engage with the world. She is grateful to those who saw leadership qualities in her and pushed her to do better, in particular Ms. Malloy, a MHS registrar. “She called me a frog. I was hopping from this place to the next. My lily pad that I need to be on was in the middle and I used to always jump over it. She says I finally saw the lily pad and now I just need to leap for it.” Alissa turns 18 in April, is registered to vote, and looks forward to November. “Congress better watch out because – guess what – our voices WILL be heard.”
Max, a Montclair High senior, looked forward to the National School Walkout. He expected his town to step up and was proud to be the first one out the door. The Parkland students had made gun violence real to teens all across the country. On February 14, the day of the shooting, many MHS students followed developments via Snapchat stories. With the classrooms and teens so relatable, the dead bodies and horror called for students like Max to act.
Max appreciates the classroom discussions in MHS’s Center for Social Justice where he has learned about the power of lobbying and NRA-backed money. Along with handing out voter registrations and proselytizing the importance of voting to fellow students, Max will continue to educate himself on the history and policies of gun reform as well as the history of other movements. “I feel like we need to usher in this new age of intellectual youth.”
Beside education, Max places great value on people skills and the ability to communicate across generations. “I think it's better than being a genius at math or being a history wiz or being able to finish your physics homework in five minutes.” To bring change he feels we must work in solidarity with all ages because at the heart of this movement is peace and equity. Who wouldn’t want that?
When Emily, a Montclair High senior, recalls the killing of Trayvon Martin and the start of the Black Lives Matter movement, she remembers worrying that her older brother would be similarly targeted. “I think that was when I really started to wake up...I became more worried because of what I looked like.” It was the Parkland students who encouraged Emily to take her first steps toward activism and led her to help organize the MHS walkout on March 14. Afterward, a teacher encouraged her further, “You guys did an amazing job with the walkout, but there are kids who have been trying to do things like this for years and they just haven't been getting attention from it.”
Emily took that message to heart and brought it with her to St. James on the evening of March 24 where hundreds gathered to rally against gun violence. As a speaker, she pleaded with adults to listen. “Listen to the stories of children in Chicago that learn to tend bullet wounds. Listen to the children who Eric Garner left behind. Listen to the students who have been fighting for gun reform for years and have been silenced because of the color of their skin.”
As Emily pushes forward in the movement, working to bridge communities, she responds to the rallying signs that state, “You are the leaders we’ve been waiting for.” Her message: we can’t do this alone – we need your support and activism.
It was when she heard Emma González’ speech that Maggie of Montclair High felt the Parkland school shooting was different and not destined to be forgotten. Inspired by the Florida teens’ activism and their message to reject the normalization of gun violence, Maggie volunteered to speak at the MHS National School Walkout where she called on fellow students to bridge the gap between words and action. “Today isn't about walking out of our classrooms, but rather walking towards a better future.”
She may only be a freshman but Maggie is no novice to leadership and activism. In 2017 she founded In Harmony Montclair, a youth group that aims to serve the community while also empowering teens – they organize and perform in benefit concerts for local charities.
Her passion for performing led Maggie to write and direct for CODE RED: Playwrights Against Gun Violence. A series of short plays performed on March 23 at Luna Stage in West Orange, CODE RED gave attendees a platform to digest and discuss school shootings. “My scene is about a girl who's going to the psychologist because she lost her sister in a shooting and she is trying to figure out how to cope. I wanted to highlight some of the issues raised by kids from Parkland and other school shootings, but that have not received as much attention, such as how siblings are impacted by a shooting and how they recover.” The show will go on the road with another performance on April 29 at The West End Theatre in Manhattan, sponsored by Theatre 167.