Yo, Philly: Is there a David Hogg or an Emma Gonzalez out there? | Jenice Armstrong

Student Tyra Brown, 16, center, asks a question about gun violence during a gun violence forum at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

It’s hard to mobilize adults, much less kids. So I’ve got to give it to Global Citizen’s Todd Bernstein for trying.

On Tuesday, at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice in East Germantown, Bernstein assembled a group of local anti-violence leaders and put them in the same room with students from eight area schools, then took a step back to let them interact.

He called it the “Inaugural Student Forum on Gun Violence – on the Road to Change.”

Bernstein was inspired after watching Parkland, Fla., school shooting survivors David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez, and others emerge as national leaders in the fight for gun control. They’re about to embark on a nationwide trip to raise awareness and register voters. Bernstein wants Philly kids to be similarly mobilized.

But this was Parkway, not Parkland, and he wanted to see if a new leader might emerge.

“I’ve often seen that while people want to effectuate change, sometimes they need an organizational platform for them to get it started,” said Bernstein, founder of the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT/Staff Photographer
Sona Wink, 14, of Germantown Friends, raises a hand to be recognized during a school gun violence forum at Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice.

Maybe. The leadership that emerged from Parkland began organically after a gunman killed 17 people and wounded 17 in a bloody school shooting Feb. 14.

But as Scott Charles, Temple University’s trauma outreach coordinator, told me at the forum, “The truth is that we’ve had as many school-age kids shot in Philadelphia since Parkland than were actually shot at Parkland.”

The 50 students at Tuesday’s forum came from all around the area and from many backgrounds. Just visiting Parkway for a few hours was a culture shock for Germantown Friends School students, who expressed surprise at having to walk through metal detectors and be subjected to airport-like scanning.

At one point, a white female Germantown Friends student spoke up about her “privilege.” It was a mic-drop moment as students from every imaginable background spent a few hours grappling with one of the biggest issues facing Philadelphia.

They sat attentively and quietly as 25-year-old Davida Garner spoke movingly about losing her cousin Daymond Garner to gun violence. A year has passed to the day without any arrests.

“I don’t want another family to go through what my family is going through,” she said, and the students applauded.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Alexander Allen of PowerCorpsPHL speaks at gun violence forum at Parkway Northwest High School.

I’m a little skeptical about what Bernstein’s trying to pull off. But those were some impressive kids assembled in that room. Not only did they listen intently, but they had lots to say and didn’t seem shy about expressing themselves.

After it was over, Ruthie Cohen, a student at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, told me that students at her school “are so passionate about stopping gun violence, but we also are humble and know that we don’t have the perspective that a lot of other people do. We really want to learn from other people.”

We need to support them and help them find their voice the way Hogg, Gonzalez, and the other student leaders from Parkland have.

The students’ next meeting is scheduled for June 20 at Global Citizen offices at 12th and Chestnut Streets. School will be out for the summer by then. I asked Bernstein if he thinks the kids will show.

“We will see,” he said. “But if we do nothing, we will never know.”