Tanisha Pratt-Thomas, whose 15-year-old son was gunned down in 2016 while walking home from a basketball game, has complicated feelings about anti-gun-violence efforts by the students from Parkland, Fla.
“I just feel like it’s so much involvement now because it came to their front door. No one cares until it happens to them,” she wrote me. “It saddens me that it happened. Peers killing peers for no reason at all. It’s been time to do something about gun laws way before it happened to my son. I’m glad they’re standing up and speaking out. It has to start somewhere. Buying a gun is like buying candy.”
The school shooting in Parkland, Fla., was a national tragedy and one that may have been preventable had stricter laws been in place to keep the gunman from purchasing his arsenal of high-powered rifles. The survivors of that awful day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have taken it upon themselves to make sure that the nightmare that occurred at their school won’t happen again.
I couldn’t have more respect for how those brave, articulate teens have stood up and said #NeverAgain. But I also understand others such as Pratt-Thomas who aren’t as eager to follow along. Gun violence may be new for Parkland, but it’s a nightly occurrence in certain corners of this city. Losing a friend to gun violence has become a sad rite of passage.
I get that. I really do.
But change has to start somewhere. If this is where a national effort to ban assault weapons begins, then count me in. I intend to be at one of the Philly schools that will be participating in the National School Walkout planned for Wednesday, the shooting’s one-month anniversary. I will position myself so I can bear witness as students, teachers, and administrators leave their classrooms at 10 a.m. and remain outside for 17 minutes – one minute for each of those slain in Parkland.
Anti-violence activists will participate as well, even as they hope the conversation to make our schools safe expands to include shootings in inner cities.
“My position is, we need as much attention about the black deaths that are happening as those in other communities,” Bilal Qayyum, a member of the Mayor’s Commission on African American Males, told me. “We are 50 percent of all homicides and we are only 13 percent of the population.
“It’s a race discussion that no one wants to have,” he added.
Although he has gotten blowback for his position, Asa Khalif of Black Lives Matter Pennsylvania will be standing with the students Wednesday morning as well.
“I support the walkout 100 percent,” he said. “My job is just to be there as a big brother.”
I don’t plan to get involved either. This groundswell #NeverAgain movement to force Congress to enact tougher gun legislation began as a student-led movement and should continue as such. Instead, I will watch and smile encouragingly as the students file out of their classrooms. Maybe I’ll even hold up a sign saying, “This is your time!”
It really is. Our generation had its chance. We either failed miserably or did a giant shoulder shrug as we cowered in the shadow of the National Rifle Association. Word is getting around about the walkout. Schools such as Science Leadership Academy, Franklin Learning Center, Lower Merion High School, and Germantown Friends School are among those planning to participate on Wednesday.
Kudos to William R. Hite Jr., the Philadelphia school superintendent, for sending a letter to principals advising them that students who participate in next week’s walkout should not be disciplined.
“As a reminder, should students choose to walk out, discipline should not be imposed,” he wrote.
Wednesday’s walkout will be followed by a March for Our Lives rally in Washington on March 24 and another student walkout on April 20, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting.
“People are finally listening. They should have been listening a long time ago. The mother is correct,” Rosalind Pichardo of Operation Save Our City said, referring to Pratt-Thomas. “But right now we are gaining momentum, and the people in power listening. Now is the time to speak up.”
It’s also the time to support the students.