Parkland students join Chicagoans to march against gun violence

"We just want peace. With this type of movement, with this amount of people we can definitely get something done."

Image Credit: Aaron Cynic

Hundreds took to the streets on the South Side of Chicago to call for an end to gun violence both in the city and across the nation at an annual Peace March hosted by St. Sabina’s church. Community members and activists were joined by student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, along with musicians Chance the Rapper and Jennifer Hudson, and former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

“Something is happening across this country,” the Rev. Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina told the crowd at a rally before the march. “Young people are rising up, from the north to the south, to the east, to the west. They are taking action…Either support our young people or get out of the way.”

Attendees chalked messages of peace on the street between the church and the large stage erected in the parking lot before the two-hour rally began, and many crowded around a mural that was painted on-site by Tio Manny, the father of a Parkland shooting victim, which read “we demand to graduate,” which many people added their own personal messages. The “Chicago Metro Gun Share” installation, which resembles a Divvy bike share station but contains mock AR-15 assault rifles in the place of bicycles was also moved to the area from the Chicago Loop.

The rally featured a bevy of speakers who shared personal stories of how gun violence has affected them and their communities, as well as calls to engage elected officials, and demands for more resources in economically disadvantaged areas.

“We are survivors. Survivors of a war that’s lasted for way too long,” said Alex King,” a recent graduate of North Lawndale College Prep in Chicago and member of the school’s ‘Peace Warrior’ program, as well as a member of Good Kids Mad City. “The war on violence. Whether it’s physical violence or emotional violence…and with war survivors comes a lot of trauma. The loss of loved ones or the constant fear of losing your own life day in and day out.”

King and others on stage also spoke to the lack of resources and economic disparity between communities of color and other areas of the city, a huge contributing factor in gun violence. In the past five years, Chicago presided over the largest closing of public schools in the nation, and closed half of its public mental health clinics. “The resources in which we need are more mental health and trauma centers in our communities for those who have been traumatized,” said King.

“The people of Chicago demand investment in public education that empowers individuals in our communities,” said another speaker. “People know what we want, but the people in office simply don’t care to listen to us. It’s hard to call this a true democracy when politicians are more concerned with chasing money over students.”

Earlier in the week, some of the Parkland students joined activists with Good Kids Mad City and No Cop Academy movement – two local groups that have been working to end gun violence in the community by trying to shift the focus away from increased policing in favor of increased resources to the community, as well as opposing a new $95 million police academy.

Black students get suspended at a rate three times higher than white students,” said Alex Wind, a Parkland student, at a Monday press conference held by the family of Maurice Granton Jr, who was shot and killed by Chicago Police. “That is an issue. That is a problem that needs to be fixed and a $95 million police academy is not going to fix that issue. It is only going to make worse.”

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who survived a mass shooting in Tucson, Arizona in 2011, made a short speech urging the crowd to vote. “These are scary times,” the former said Giffords. “It’s time for us to stand up for what’s right…Vote, vote, vote, let the youth lead.”

While the Peace March takes place each year in the city’s Auburn Gresham neighborhood to coincide with the final week of classes for Chicago Public Schools students, it also served as the first stop on the “Road to Change” bus tour,” organized by the Parkland students, which will make 50 stops in more than 20 states. The tour is meant as both a way to call attention to gun violence and potential solutions to it, as well as register young people to vote.

“We’re going to places where the NRA has bought and paid for politicians who refuse to take simple steps to save our lives — and we’ll be visiting a number of communities that have been affected by gun violence to meet fellow survivors and use our voices to amplify theirs,” say organizers on their website.

Kyra Simon of the Parkland students brought a message of unity to the crowd.  “Our voices your voices united are stronger than anything else,” said Simon. “Us together, we’re going to make the movement what it needs to be – united. All of your voices, no matter where you come from, your community, your economic background, matter. Your voices are strong and in this movement every single voice, no matter where it comes from, matters.”

The rally concluded with performances by singer Jennifer Hudson and a speech from Chance the Rapper, who then helped lead the march through the neighborhood. “We just want peace,” said Chance. “With this type of movement, with this amount of people we can definitely get something done. Y’all are definitely on the right side of history, especially exactly where you’re supposed to be tonight. It’s so important for us to link up and talk about what’s going on here.”


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