As I settled into Jeffco’s North Area Athletic Complex with other parents and teens, the field’s bright lights rained down on us, reminding me of Friday night football games when I was in high school. High school was a time of innocence, of having no responsibility aside from making sure (most of) our homework got done. For students all around Denver, this evening was about joining together to put an end to the school shootings that have taken place in the last 19 years, with, they say, little to no meaningful change being made.
Chanting “never again,” students from Jeffco-area schools invited local council members, Golden’s mayor, state senators, and family and survivors of the Columbine High School shooting in April 1999, to let it be known that, “We are the district where this epidemic began and we will be the district where it ends.” The rally took place on March 14, the evening after the 17-minute walkout that students across the country participated in to honor the 17 students and teachers killed in Florida’s Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
On March 24, a national and local march to the Capitol is planned by this youth-led movement to fight for safety in schools. Ahead of the march, we spoke with local teens and school administrators about why they’re marching and involved in the Never Again movement:
“Ever since Sandy Hook, I’ve been attached to all of these school shootings. It puts a dagger in my heart because I go to public school and it could easily happen to me. This year especially, my school has had numerous threats of shootings at our school, and it’s something that needs to stop. We should be able to go to school without feeling like we’re not safe anymore. We shouldn’t have to put up memorials for kids.”
“Most people think that because we’re teenagers we don’t know what we’re talking about and they say that we don’t have enough life experience to march or talk about this. The way that I see it is the last time adults were in public schools it was a totally different world, and they didn’t have to deal with this.”
“It’s terrifying to walk into school knowing that there are frequent shootings. I’m attending the March for Your Life because something needs to change within our schools. We should all have the right to feel safe, and I believe that the loss of human life is more important than the right to bear arms. This movement is important to me because it shows that a majority of Americans are willing to discuss a polarizing issue. It shows that most people acknowledge that something needs to change.”
“When I was 15, I was attending Arapahoe High School when the gunman walked in and opened fire, killing one student and himself. He was actually one of my teammates when I was on the speech and debate team. I have a lot of firsthand experience dealing with school shootings and that was one of the biggest reasons I felt like I need to be at the march.”
“The one thing that really put into perspective why this movement was so vital to me and why it should be vital to every student is a conversation with one of my former classmates, about speaking at this march. I told him that I felt guilty getting up and speaking because I know so many students have had shootings that are worse than mine. I shouldn’t have to feel lucky, because no one should have to go through that. It really put into perspective how normalized this issue is and how it should be something that we’re still shocked by and still moved by, and something that we’re still compelled to take action.”
“People often forget how terrified these kids have to be going back to school because it reinstates a new normal for every one of them. Everyone has to learn that this can happen and we’re no longer naïve enough to say my least favorite phrase, ‘we never thought it would happen to us.’ These kids no longer get to be naïve to think that it couldn’t happen to them, they know that this kind of stuff happens to them, so there was a lot of fear. If I’m going to be honest, there’s still that fear today when I continued on to college. I still feel fear when I’m sitting in a classroom because it’s a normal part of my life now.”
“As a high school student, it’s kind of absurd that we have to march in the first place. But seeing my peers across the country being shot in school because our government can’t be bothered to protect our lives is really not something I want to see continue. Regardless of how we view the laws and the constitution, a student’s life is worth more than a gun and it should be the policy that we protect our students first.”
“Just because we’re not experienced or older doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re talking about. A lot of times we ignore the student voice, we’re told to wait our turn and let the adults decide. But until this point we’ve not made progress in gun control and school shootings have escalated. We’re not willing to wait any longer and we’re not going to wait for our turn. This shouldn’t be about youth vs. age, it should be everyone joining together to fight for all of our lives.”
Evan, 19, public relations director for Never Again CO
“For me, at the heart of it and especially after last year, I worked as a teachers aid in a first grade classroom. The day Sandy Hook happened I remember just being particularly struck. Last year after I had worked personally with first graders the day of the anniversary I couldn’t help but realize that the fact that something like this could happen to my first graders and my students was just as real of a possibility. For me, it’s about so much more than gun reform, it’s about making sure that the students of the nation are safe and ensuring their well-being. At the end of the day, it’s more about students safety and everyone’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than it is reforming gun laws.”
Frank DeAngelis, former principal of Columbine High School, Littleton
“I was in my third year as principal when the Columbine shooting happened. I really believe that if you would have asked anyone in that community if a Columbine incident could’ve happened at Columbine prior, we would’ve said no. We were a high achieving school, we had a lot of parental support, it was just a great school. We were caught by surprise and we learned that it could happen on any given day and that’s what most schools are saying now, “We never thought it could happen to us.”
DeAngelis says about the Walkout on March 14: “The thing that stuck out in my mind was when students encouraged their fellow students to understand that many of them will be at the voting age within the next few years and they need to send a message that they’re no longer going to accept this, no more, never again. For so many years after shootings would happen we’d hear that changes need to be made, but changes have not been made in the past 19 years, so maybe now they’ll listen to the students, because enough is enough.”
Noah Tonk, principal of Morey Middle School, Denver
On the walkout on March 14: “It was incredibly emotional. In general, I want my kids to stay in school and get work done. I’m also aware that sometimes education is about more than just book work, it’s about education about the world around us and civic participation. [The walkout] is not a gun control rally, it’s about demanding action from our country and our government. We have gone 19 years—four presidents, two democratic, two republican—without any meaningful action on this.”
“I was terrified, I was thinking these are middle schoolers, they have a really hard time keeping quiet for more than 30 seconds and I’m asking them to be quiet for 17 minutes. It was incredible watching all of my kids file past me, and we had staff posted all around the perimeter, but we didn’t even need them, the students were so quiet. Watching every single one of my kids, from the kid that never says anything anyways to the kid that’s always getting in trouble because he can’t keep his mouth shut, everybody was completely silent. I have never been so proud and impressed with my kids, than I was that day.”
March for Our Lives takes place on March 24 at Civic Center Park in Denver.