Youth Take Center Stage As Thousands Gather For Kansas City 'March For Our Lives'
Thousands came to Kansas City's Theis Park Saturday afternoon to join with protests around the world demanding action against gun violence. The "March for Our Lives" events were organized and inspired by the student survivors of last month's school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Elected officials and other adults were on hand, and several spoke briefly. But with slam poetry, speeches and live music, high school students from across the metro took center stage, commemorating victims of school shootings, sharing personal stories and calling for changes in gun control laws.
"To my fellow students: You deserve to be safe. We all deserve safety," said Winnetonka High School senior Danielle Dodd. "This is a day of power. We are going to vote and we are going to create change."
Dodd says her peers talk about guns, but that they're all pretty "nihilistic" about it. She says "I hope we don't get shot today" has become something of a running joke.
"We do drills to learn how to protect ourselves, but we don't do anything to stop what we might have to protect ourselves from," Dodd said.
Kansas City area teacher Joshua Trevino, who didn't want to identify his school, echoed Dodd's sentiment. At his school, he says he's heard calls for more counselors, more security and more gun training for teachers.
"I watch as adults tell students the issue is more complicated, to remember the shifting socioeconomic pressures that affect gun ownership ... that policy should be written by those who have a deeper understanding of the political landscape ... that guns offer safety and protection and that complicates the problem," Trevino said.
"Our students say the issue is simple. They're right. I'm asking for adults to stop talking and to listen."
Several young people in the crowd — which a Kansas City Police estimate placed at 5,000 to 6,000 people at its peak — said the threat of a school shooting is feeling more and more real.
Fourteen-year-old Jaleigh Bass is a freshman at Raytown South High School, which became the target of a shooting threat circulating on social media just 10 days after the Parkland shooting. Police deemed the threat a hoax, but Bass said it was still scary.
"It is the most stressful thing to think you can't go to school without thinking I could possibly be gone tomorrow," Bass said.
Shawnee Mission South senior Cora Selzer says she came across a Parkland victim who reminded her of herself.
"I cried the entire day," Selzer said. "All I can think is, when will my friends be next — not if, but when."
The focus of Saturday's rally went beyond Parkland, and beyond school shootings. Several speakers made a point to emphasize that gun violence is a reality for many people in the Kansas City area.
"We have a gun problem," said Rosilyn Temple, head of Kansas City's Mothers in Charge. "It's our problem. We have to take our streets back. We have to get these guns off our streets. No family should be burying their child."
Alongside three mothers who have lost a child to gun violence, Temple, whose own son was killed in 2011, said this has long been an issue in Kansas City. Looking out across the crowd Saturday, Temple said she felt hope.
"This is powerful," Temple said. "We should have been doing this a long time ago. This is the greatest movement I have ever seen in Kansas City."
Mayor Sly James called on the crowd to support "common-sense" changes in gun laws, saying such efforts have paid off in other states.
“Seven laws have brought [Massachusetts] to the lowest homicide and gun death rate in the country, and we don’t have a single one,” James said.
U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II also briefly addressed the rally. Other speakers included Emily Riegel, whose husband Tom Pickert was killed in a still-unsolved shooting in Brookside last year.