With Fresh Eyes: The Kids Are All Right


by Rich Nelson

During the spring of 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, efforts by Civil Rights leaders to force the de-segregation of that city were failing, and those in the movement were dispirited.  In early May, a new effort there was launched to involve young African-American students in the protests.  Thousands of school children took to the streets and marched in solidarity, which resulted in a violent police response.  Police dogs and powerful water hoses were turned on the young people peacefully assembled.  Hundreds were arrested.  The images of children assaulted and jailed caused a national outcry, and, as a result, progress, albeit slowly, was achieved.  Among other measures, Birmingham and other cities opened their lunch counters and public facilities to all their citizens. Much resistance to these changes followed, but the first steps were realized.  The summer of 1963 brought the March on Washington and Dr. King’s “I Have A Dream” speech, but it was the young people in Birmingham that spring who forced us to open our collective eyes to the realities of harsh prejudice.

Fast forward to 2018. On Valentine’s Day, 17 people lost their lives at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  Since then, the students who were there that day have  challenged us to leave behind our “thoughts and prayers” and, instead,  take meaningful action.  And, no, the students are not paid actors, as some have suggested, and the “Left” is  not using these students to “push their agenda,” as the Liberty Review columnist suggested in last week’s Examiner. They deserve more from us for articulating their own point of view through their grief and pain.

In the aftermath of this latest national tragedy, the debate over gun rights has re-surfaced, once again. Here are three varied responses within that debate from the past weeks.

—From Justin Gruber, a 15-year-old sophomore at the school: “19 years ago, the school shooting at Columbine High School happened. And I was born into a world where I never get to experience safety and peace. 
There needs to be a significant change in this country because this has to never happen again.”

—From Donald Trump in remarks to CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) on February 23 promoting the idea of allowing some teachers to carry concealed weapons on school grounds: “So this crazy man who walked in wouldn’t even know who has it. That’s good. That’s not bad, that’s good. And the teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

—And, the remarks of NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch at that same CPAC conference: “Many in the media love mass shootings.  You guys love it.  I’m not saying you love the tragedy.  But I’m saying that you love the ratings.”

 Despite the blowback from the NRA, the meandering policy position statements from the president, and our history of retreating from calls to action on the gun issue, I am optimistic this time that the current debate will be maintained by the momentum set in motion by these courageous students.  Their efforts, including the March on Washington scheduled for March 24, will keep the pressure on the White House and our legislators.
Actually, they already have.  Florida’s Governor Rick Scott and Senator Marco Rubio, for example, have signaled a willingness to re-consider some of their long-standing hardline positions on gun control measures, a direct result of the persuasive lobbying initiated by the students.  Our government officials need to be held accountable as this debate evolves.

It is said that history repeats itself. It is often the repeat of a past mistake from which we fail to learn. Not this time. The determined, beautiful children of 1963 Birmingham and the passionate, articulate students of 2018 Parkland are now linked together in history in their common pursuit of and commitment to purposeful and lasting change.  We should all be hopeful then, because …. the kids are all right.

Contact the author by emailing richmskn@gmail.com