Durham County

Jordan High students walk out to demand stricter gun laws. Here’s what they’re saying

In a show of solidarity with the survivors of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, hundreds of Jordan High School students rallied Wednesday, Feb. 21, to express their frustration with Congress over the nation’s gun laws.

The students, who began to flow out of their classes at noon as part of a staged walkout, chanted slogans demanding that Congress adopt stricter gun laws to prevent the kind of tragedy that occurred at Stoneman Douglas High when 17 students and teachers were killed and 14 others suffered injuries, five life-threatening, when the accused shooter, 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz, allegedly pulled a fire alarm to draw students out of classrooms, tossed smoke grenades, then opened fire.

More than 100 students from Stoneman Douglas High traveled to Tallahassee, Florida, the state capital, overnight Tuesday to demand stricter gun laws. It was the first official event of the student’s #NeverAgain movement. They want to change gun and mental health laws to prevent future school shootings.

Students in many other cities such as Chicago and Washington, D.C., also staged walkouts on Wednesday to show support for those from Stoneman.

And students across the nation have planned two national events for next month to get lawmaker’s attention, one is “National School Walkout Day” on March 14 and the other is “March for Our Lives” on March 24 in Washington, D.C.

“It’s important because if we don’t say anything, they don’t listen,” said Aminah Jenkins, a Jordan High junior, referring to state and national leaders. “We need to be consistent and persistent.”

Jenkins asked students to show up on March 14 for “National School Walkout Day” to show lawmakers that students are serious about stricter gun laws.

“I need to see every single one of you out here on March 14 doing the same thing until we get what we deserve,” Jenkins said. “No kid needs to go to school and worry about whether or not their life is in jeopardy.”

Although Parkland, Florida is nearly 800 miles from Durham, students who attended the rally at Jordan said the shooting there has had a profound impact on their lives.

“It’s something that could happen to anybody,” said Wendy MacIver, a Jordan High sopohmore. “After seeing what happend in Florida, it really does affect you. It’s a school with kids just like we have right here and the fact that our government is denying gun control affects me and it hurts me.”

Carlise Overcast-Hawks, a Jordan senior, said the threat of gun violence on school campuses is real, and that she wants to do everthing she can before graduation to lessen that threat for the students coming behind her, especially her younger sister who also attends Jordan.

“As a senior, I have a little sister here, and I want to make sure that she’s safe,” Overcast-Hawks said. “It affects their learning because you shouldn’t have to worry about if you’re going to be safe. “Doing tornado drills is different, but we shouldn’t be having active-shooter drills. That just shouldn’t be happening.”

Overcast-Hawks said it’s troubling that information sent to law enforcement officials indicating Cruz was a threat was ignored.

“You never know who that’s going to be in your school, or even from outside your school,” Overcast-Hawks said. “It [the school shooting in Florida] personally made paranoid about going to school and wonder how safe is my school in general.”

Karen French, a member of Jordan’s first graduating class in 1965, said she heard about the rally while watching the news on television and decided to attend to support the students.

“Our kids shouldn’t be afraid to go to school,” French said. “I went to this school and it never entered my mind that a shooter would come.”

A retired mental health professional, French said schools need more counselors and mental health services.

“I think we have to have sensible gun control,” French said. “I think we have to have this conversation about gun control.”

French said she believe the student-led movement for stricter gun laws that has emerged since the shooting at Stoneman Douglas can be effective.

“It made a difference during the Civil Rights Movement when the kids marched in place of their parents,” French said. “When people saw children stepping up, it made a difference. If the kids can keep the momentum going, I think it can make a difference.”

The outspoken students at Stoneman Douglas have been criticized by conservatives who contend they are being led by left-wing groups who want to ban guns. Some have also said the students could not possibly organize a national rally by themselves.

The attacks on the students angered French.

“It made me feel very sad that people are attacking the credibility of children who have had to go through this and are trying to do something positive,” French said.

Githens Middle School students walked out of class Tuesday to protest the school shootings in Florida. The students sat quietly in the parking lot for about 17 minutes before returning to class.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645

Upcoming protests

The National School Walkout,planned by Women’s March organizers, will be held on March 14 at 10 a.m. in cities and towns and time zones across the nation. It calls for students, faculty, parents, and others to walk out of school for 17 minutes — one minute for each person who was killed in the Florida school shooting.

The March for Our Lives is scheduled for March 24. The details are sketchy as of now, but students and activists plan to march on Washington, D.C., and other U.S. cities on that day.