By Matthew Sporn
Brown’s Island was filled with students on Friday as Richmond took part in the National School Walkout. Co-organizers Maxwell Nardi and Kennedy Mackey sent out a press release last week laying out the priorities the school’s student leaders have organized in order to keep the conversation on gun control active: “We’re not protesting against the second amendment or the right to bear arms, rather we’re fighting for the common-sense measures which can save the thousands of lives taken every year by gun violence,”
Folks started gathering at Brown’s Island around 11am. While a DJ was spinning tunes, students were creating posters, taking photos, and registering to vote. Attendees had largely the same response when asked why they chose to start their Friday this way: “Enough is enough.” One student, Freeman senior Adam Berlinerman, said this was his first walkout. Lamenting Columbine and all the other times “never again” has been invoked, Berlinerman nonetheless pledged he’d march again.
Chaz Nuttycombe, one of the students that helped organize the walkout, had similar sentiments.
“I have grown up in a world where school shootings are just something we’ve brushed off.” Indeed, several posters today were mocking the infamous “thoughts and prayers” as merely an empty platitude. Nuttycombe continued, “Parkland was a wake up call for me. I’m glad to see the students of Parkland have decided to try and make sure that their mass shooting will be the last.” Many of the students speaking drew a direct link between the civil rights struggles in the sixties and the action students are taking today. “What we’re seeing right now is history rhyming with itself,” said Nuttycombe.”The youth of this country have always led the way forward. We saw it during the civil rights movement, and we’re seeing it today.”
By noon, speakers had started to gather up on stage. Consisting mostly of students, a mix of song and emotional stories had the crowd hanging on every spoken word. Students offered unique perspectives on a problem they recognize is unique to America. Indeed, the United States has more mass shootings — and more people cumulatively killed or injured — than ten other developed nations combined.
Shortly after 1pm, the march officially convened.The crowd headed toward 7th st, where they would take that to East Grace and head on to the State Capitol where Governor Ralph Northam would address the crowd.
City officials planned for up to 10,000 people to attend the march and gun control rally. Estimates so far lean closer to 5,000 participants.
All along Grace St, various chants could be heard from the marchers: “Vote them out!,” “What does democracy look like? THIS is what democracy looks like!” It permeated the air and, when a lone man waving a massive tea party flag shouted “guns save lives!!!,” the marchers easily drowned him out.
When everyone made it to the capitol, they were greeted with an array of speakers. Sierra Kenney, a junior at Deep Run High School, who spoke of the constant dismissal of youth by our nation’s representatives. With his constant refrain of “Why not then?” Kenney stressed the fact that our representatives have failed us. School Board Representative Elizabeth Doerr, a millennial herself, railed against the idea of arming teachers, and assured the crowd that Richmond Public Schools is on their side. Lori Haas, Virginia State Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, gave a heart wrenching speech about her own experience with school shootings. Her daughter was shot while away at college, what Haas describes as the worst phone call a mother can receive.
Haas had the honor of introducing Governor Northam on stage, where he spoke of the example all these marchers were setting for the adults who “had failed them.” Northam was followed by Lieutenant Gov. Fairfax, who also applauded all the students watching and urged all eligible to register to vote. Mark Herring and Delegate Chris Hurst rounded out the Virginia politicians there to speak. The rally with Tiesha, a junior at Armstrong High School performing a heartfelt cover of Sam Cooke’s civil rights anthem: “Change ls Gonna Come.” The rally ended as it began, with hope.
Photos by Matthew Sporn