This week, we watched students across America do what they would have done during the civil rights days – lunch counter sit-ins in North Carolina or walkouts in East Los Angeles. We saw students use their power and influence to speak out against inaction and advocated for social justice. This time, their advocacy was around protecting their rights to an education without fear, denouncing the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun violence in schools.
I had a chance to attend a rally held at Lynwood High School where students walked out of their classrooms at 10 am and gathered in the quad. Each student-led club spoke, sharing thoughts, feelings, and words of encouragement for their classmates who were feeling anxious and uneasy. Students also read the names of the victims, held a moment of silence and shared a little about each of their stories. At lunchtime, an empty desk was placed on the quad in memory of every lived lost in Parkland a month ago. Students at Firebaugh High School walked out of campus and returned 17 minutes later to place signs up around campus stating their commitment to ending gun violence at schools.
I should have been at work instead of at these rallies. But I felt it was important that our students saw us and knew we heard them. Unlike a Florida lawmaker, who felt student’s voice does not matter, I think the opposite. When they have a message for us, we should make sure we open our ears to hear their views. Youth voice and leadership is essential, and we should do nothing for them without first hearing from them. So, as I was on my way to work, I followed my gut and headed to the rallies instead. I am glad I did.
I have never been more proud to be Lynwood alum. I know our future is in good hands. I saw leaders emerge because adults gave young people space to use their voice and leadership. It was terrific watching news feeds of students all over the country come together united, often going against the grain to do so. If we adults made any mistakes this week, it was those of us who prevented students from walking out of schools by threatening them with punishment for doing so or those of us who discredited their voices. We have to make sure we continue to create opportunities for youth advocacy and civic engagement. We should never get to a point where we replace youth voice and leadership with our own. I am so proud of our students.