by Ember Larregui '18
Good Morning, students, teachers, adults, and residents. My name is Ember Larregui, one of the eight Student Heads of Stoneleigh-Burnham School, and I am here today to speak to you all on the issue of gun control.
I would first like to thank you all on behalf of our community for coming here today, and for participating in this walkout for gun control.
Today is April 20th, 2018. On this day just under twenty years ago, twelve students and one teacher were shot and killed by two teenagers, who committed a school shooting. Just under two decades later, seventeen students and two teachers were killed in another school shooting.
The first was Columbine. The second was Parkland.
Just under two decades later, there have been school shootings in over 36 states–– of which ten instances are claimed to be the “deadliest," all with a death toll of at least four, but one as large as thirty–three.
In 2018 alone, there have been 11 school shootings, the most recent being at Marjory Stoneman Douglas in Parkland, Florida.
I was asked to speak today on this today by several of my peers and classmates. You see, I have been lucky enough to spend my time in this small area of New England, soon to be graduating as an SBS alumna. But just a few years ago, I was spending the days of my freshman year as a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
When I first heard the news break and saw the article alerts on my phone, I was eager to find out which school this had happened to. I couldn’t believe something like this could happen so close to where I lived. When news articles finally started to report the details, the school’s name hadn’t yet been released. But when I saw the photos of the campus, it only took one look at the freshman building to know.
I could tell you all about the teachers who ranged from strict –– like Mrs. Rodriguez, who had the rowdiest class but only wanted to set her students straight –– to crazy –– like Mrs. Cunningham, who always had the front of her platinum blonde hair dyed in funky colors but made it her mission to help her students become the best writers they could be. I could tell you about the football games, and the same group of senior boys that I didn’t know but made themselves distinct by constantly singing the tune of "Seven Nation Army" from the stands. I could tell you about the fact that Domino’s pizza was always an option to buy at lunch, about the legendary homecoming proposals I witnessed, or about the fact that skipping class was absolutely not an option.
I could tell you about all of the memorable things that Douglas has given to me and every other one of its students. But now, this amazing school and community and all of its wonderful attributed remains overshadowed, by one person’s complete and willful disregard for human life.
It is truly the place that one would think “that wouldn’t happen here.” Douglas –– a school of over three thousand students, with top sports teams, and with all the cliques you could think of –– seems to be straight from a standard American high school movie.
How ironic then, that Douglas has become simply the next school to represent the new American standard of educational institutions–– a standard in which children are the victims of gun violence, a standard in which students are more worried about lockdown drills and death tolls rather than AP exams and sports practice.
Just under two decades later, and over one hundred and eighty seven thousand students in this country alone, have been through a school shooting of some kind.
In another instance, this number would only continue to increase. But in the weeks that have followed the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, during national school walkouts like today, and for the foreseeable future ––– students are fighting back. Students are leading the charge to say “no more”; to not let their friends and peers lives be taken in vain; to step up and succeed where our congressmen, senators, and government officials are failing.
However, the struggle that they fight for is not as singular as it has been presented. Rather, it is a multifaceted issue, with many different parts to the equation.
Take, for instance, the nature of this instance, and the environment in which it occurred. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is located in the majorly white and affluent suburb of Parkland, and also feeds in kids from the nearby predominantly white and only slightly less affluent suburb of Coral Springs, which was where I lived. But what about the kids on the opposite end of the spectrum?
What about the students in poverty-stricken neighborhoods, made up almost entirely of people of color who are subject to gun violence daily, but get little aid in their struggles if not none at all? What about the increasing numbers of street gun violence in cities like Chicago, or Baltimore, which are among the many that are overcrowded yet underfunded? What about the Black men, women, and children who face gun-based and non gun-based brutality at the hands of the police all over the country?
The stories you hear about in the news so often, tales of a lone wolf whose ambiguous mental illness, only actually represent 1% of all gun–based homicides in America each year. The reality of the situation is that while instances of school shootings happen much more often than they ever should, gun violence in other forms not only remains a predominant danger to the lives of many, but also remains ignored if not left out of the gun control conversation entirely.
So what then, can we do? How do we fix the problem?
We can call our congressmen, and pressure them to represent the changes we want see, pressuring them to stop letting the NRA fill up their pockets. We can hashtag on social media to connect with others and to keep the issue on the table and fresh in everyone’s mind. We can continue to participate in walkouts to demand gun reform, we can support the issue from our homes, or we can participate in town halls to talk about this issue. Though Massachusetts already has strict gun control laws, our neighbors of Vermont and Maine do not, and there is still a large amount of work to do at the federal level.
But, these actions are not the only actions we must take. We must also amplify the voices of students of color across the nation fighting for their rights in the same way we have amplified the voices of other lighter skinned students.
Tell me, can you readily name any young activists of color the same way you can quickly name Emma González and David Hogg?
We must show up and show out for protests by kids of color and people of color, especially when their advocacy becomes more ardent with each new shooting of unarmed and unharming Black people, but they are sidelined by movements like this one.
Tell me, how many of you listen to the words of the local Racial Justice Rising chapter, that stands in this very area every Saturday morning to advocate for the aforementioned cause? How many of you knew that was even something that existed?
And, we must recognize the effect that the Black Lives Matter protests have had in creating this new era of protest, and in doing so have created a space for protests like the March For Our Lives to thrive, and to be recognized.
Tell me, do you think it’s fair to prioritize the lives of white and white-passing kids, but forget about the lives of their darker counterparts?
When you fight for this issue, I urge you to remain intersectional in your endeavors. I urge you to see the varied perspectives on gun control, and how the problem of school shootings can be visited in a way that fixes street gun violence and gun-based police violence as well.
Change is not real change if it is only surface level, and change is not real change if it affects some of the group but not all. And as we have seen, change is already in motion. The tragedy that occurred at Stoneman Douglas has been one that is slowly but surely being overcome. What happened to Douglas and the community’s response has been able to garner the passion of people all over the country to fight for their lives. The kids in Parkland have taken their fight far enough to successfully force the White House into banning bump stocks for guns.
The only way to go from here, is up, and forward, and through.
One year from now… students of all races, ethnicities, and economic backgrounds will be heard with the same positivity and support that has been given to white student activists, to accomplish the same goals of safety from gun-based crimes.
Five years from now… our government will finally and fully step up to our demands, that they reform the ancient gun laws created in 1791, and keep these reformations in place to protect our futures.
Ten years from now… the average number of 11 school shootings per year will have been dropped down to zero.
Just under two decades from now… no student, no child, no teacher, no adult, will ever have to feel scared that they, too will become a victim of gun-based violence, in any form, in any place, in this country.