Local students join 'Never Again' movement


Photos by Donna Schillaci

by Donna Schillaci

Students around the country took up the call for a national walkout against school gun violence on March 14, commemorating the one-month anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in a variety of ways. That included several local events throughout the day led by students at the middle-school, high-school and college levels.

The national walkouts were loosely organized by Empower, the youth wing of the Women’s March, and called for students to leave class at 10 a.m., local time, for 17 minutes, one minute for each victim in the Parkland, Florida shooting. But each community was urged to shape its own protests, and that’s just what Muskegon area students did.

“It was really a grassroots, community effort,” said Elijah Nichols, a Reeths-Puffer High School student who led two walkouts during the school’s lunch periods. In the top photo below, Nichols is shown addressing the 75+ students who participated in the first walkout on the football practice field.

“Community members came to me about having an event at Reeths-Puffer because of my involvement with the Youth Activation Coalition (YAC),” Nichols explained. He and fellow YAC committee members Brian Krause and Leah Dyga worked with other students, teachers, and parents to plan the walkout, which was moved from 10 a.m. to lunchtime at the request of the school administration. Nichols said his mother and another parent donated pizzas for the event, and additional support came from community donations.

After another student read the names and ages of those killed in the Stoneman Douglas massacre, Nichols addressed the crowd from his car roof, leading them in chants of “Enough is enough” and “Never again,” two slogans of the national student movement against school gun violence. He listed many of the frightening statistics about gun ownership and student deaths in the United States, and encouraged everyone to engage in open dialogue on the subject, and most importantly, vote for the candidates who represent their views. Students 18 and older were given the opportunity to register to vote at the Reeths-Puffer event.
Local schools participating in the national walkout at 10 a.m. were Muskegon Middle School, Whitehall High School, Career Tech Center, Muskegon Community College, and North Muskegon Schools. At North Muskegon, where about three-quarters of the high school and middle school students left class, there was an outdoor program honoring the Stoneman Douglas victims, student speeches, a voter registration drive, and a letter-writing campaign to U.S. Representative Bill Huizenga.

Muskegon High School students did not walk out of class, but instead were encouraged to show their support for victims of school gun violence through the “What is Your 17” campaign, challenging all students to complete 17 acts of kindness every day.  At Muskegon Catholic Central, a memorial prayer service for those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting was held by students in grades 7-12, and a candle was lit for each victim.

The day concluded with a community event at Mona Shores High School called “West Michigan Unites.” The program was conceived and organized completely by the students, said Principal Jennifer Bustard, who added she was very proud of their efforts.

After opening remarks by Timothy Schneider, one of the student organizers who recently attended school in Florida, a slide presentation paid tribute to the people killed at Stoneman Douglas while the Mona Shores Choir sang, “Let My Love Be Heard,” followed by a moment of silence. Featured speakers were Norton Shores Police Officer Jared Passchier, and two Mona Shores teachers, Melissa Brown and Mary VanderMolen.

Student representatives from Mona Shores and other Muskegon County high schools shared their thoughts and feelings on the recent deadly school shooting, gun violence, and making our schools safer for kids.
They included Danielle Sargent of Muskegon High School, Parker Aerts of Reeths-Puffer, Analiza Sanchez of Fruitport, and Mona Shores students Liam Wilcox, Skye Lowe, Tianna Pittman, and Kai Metcalf.

The audience of 200+ at the Mona Shores Sailor Center was encouraged to register to vote after the program. They also had the opportunity to make a donation to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, or purchase a t-shirt commemorating the “West Michigan Unites” event with proceeds going to the Parkland school (see photo above, with t-shirt sellers Max Wilson and Noah Patterson). The t-shirts carry the message, “In honor of the 17 lives lost in the Parkland shooting and to work towards ending America’s severe gun violence issue.”

National demonstrations by the anti-gun violence movement and student protestors are also planned for this Saturday, March 24, at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. (more later), and elsewhere -- at least 824 nationwide, with many additional across the globe. There is one planned for Muskegon at 11 a.m. at 550 W. Western Ave., and one in Grand Haven at noon, meeting at Fourth and Washington. Students at Forest Hills Northern High School and City High Middle School planned the March for Our Lives Grand Rapids event, which will start at noon at downtown Grand Rapids’ Rosa Parks Circle and follow a 30-minute  route around town, returning to Rosa Parks (near the Grand Rapids Art Museum). (Editor’s note: the Grand Rapids protest reportedly drew about 4000 people.)

There will be another march on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.