In deciding to travel to Washington, D.C., on Saturday for the March For Our Lives, Triangle students said they wanted to join the national chorus of voices demanding action to end gun violence in schools.
"Originally, when I heard about the shooting in Florida, my immediate reaction was anger," said Shriya Vundavalli, one of two students who have arranged for about 45 people to travel by bus to the nation's capital on Saturday.
"But when I thought about it a little more, I realized that it was a waste of time to get angry; there has to be something more impactful that we can do," said Vundavalli, a 16-year-old junior at Cary Academy.
She also wanted to be part of a student-led movement. Cameron Kasky, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and his classmates announced the march on Washington just days after a gunman killed 17 people on their campus in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
More than 800 March For Our Lives events are planned worldwide Saturday, including a student-led march in Raleigh that is expected to draw thousands of people.
Vundavalli said she decided to travel to Washington before learning about the march in Raleigh. "When I first proposed the idea to my friends, a bunch of them were interested, and I thought, if this many kids in a little private school are interested, then so many other kids might be into it as well, and that is when we decided to spread the word and get a bus," she said.
Vundavalli's co-organizer is Ashritha Nayini, a 17-year-old senior at Green Hope High School in Cary. Their fathers are paying for the bus, which plans to leave Wake County about 5 a.m. Saturday and return late that night.
Among those joining Vundavalli and Nayini on the trip is Sanzari Aranyak, an 18-year-old senior at Broughton High School in Raleigh, where she was among the organizers of Wednesday's student walkout to demand action on gun violence.
"I made the decision to go to D.C. for the March For Our Lives because I wanted to take action in the national capital and experience this national platform of politicians and celebrities at a march that is larger scale than Raleigh's march," Aranyak said.
A chartered bus made the decision easier for her and her parents, Aranyak said. "When I told my parents I wanted to go, they were a bit wary of traveling to D.C.," she said. "However, when I told them about the opportunity to go on the bus, they were supportive of my decision to go and wished they could go themselves."
Nayini noted that the national event enjoys celebrity support — George and Amal Clooney have donated $500,000 and plan to attend. "But more importantly, the voices of those who were directly affected by gun violence will be heard through the speeches of student victims," she said.
"We are very excited to hear the perspectives of these people who had the courage to take in an initiative that is bigger than themselves," she added.
And what would Nayini say if she had the chance to speak?
"Yes, we are teenagers; yes, there is still so much to learn," she said. "But it honestly does not take that much learning to understand that the simple way to tackle the problem of gun violence in our society is to tackle the root of the problem: guns."
If lawmakers don't act, then young people will, Nayini would tell her peers. "Following the footsteps of revolutionaries and ideologists like Martin Luther King Jr. and even Gandhi, us 'kids' will rally on and raise awareness to this issue and make sure the world is watching that the future generation is about to look like," she said.
Elsewhere in the Triangle, Kai White, 17, of Carrboro and his mom, Charlotte, plan to join the national march too. "We chose to go to D.C. because we wanted to walk with the thousands of others who are fighting the same fight we are," Kai White said. "We believe that not enough has been done to keep us safe, not only in schools, but everywhere."
Kai White, a 17-year-old junior at Chapel Hill High School, sees strength in numbers, and he wants to be a part of that. "We hope to add to the numbers to try and get our elected officials to get something done," he said.
Charlotte White said the decision to take part in the national march was an easy one. "We chose to go to D.C. the day the March For Our Lives was announced," she said. "We didn’t even think twice about it.
"We need real change now, and if traveling to D.C. to join thousands of others will help, then we're in."
The change Charlotte White seeks is in this nation's gun laws. "It’s time for our elected officials to listen to their constituents and pass common-sense gun reform to protect the American people — not the NRA," she said. "And maybe, showing up in D.C. will help them understand what they were elected to do — look out for all Americans."