Students across the country took part in school walkouts Wednesday to honor the shooting victims at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. In Atlanta, students at Booker T. Washington High School paid respect to the victims — and to their most famous alumnus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Markail Brooks, the 12th-grade student government vice president, said Washington students feel a responsibility to take a stand on issues like gun violence.
“Martin Luther King carries a legacy even in death,” he said. “So, I feel as if it’s an obligation to carry on what he wanted and what he was trying to fight for. That’s why this day is very important to us, and what we’re trying to do today means a lot.”
Led by the student government, Washington students held a “rolling walkout.” Students piled into the hallway class by class, floor by floor. They “took a knee” to honor the shooting victims and observed a moment of silence.
“They wanted to create something original, something creative to really show how they feel about violence and guns in school,” said Washington Principal Dr. Tashara Wilson.
Mercedes Williams said the Student Government Association originally wanted students to lie down, but administrators nixed that idea. So, they decided students would kneel instead.
“The knee symbolizes that … we’re in unity,” said Williams, student government executive council president. “It symbolizes those that were lost as well.”
Taking a knee is also a gesture some NFL players have used to protest racial injustice. Like a lot of those players, most of the students at Washington are African-American. Brooks says their voices are often overlooked in the national conversation about gun violence.
“I feel as if our voices aren’t heard enough, only in times of distress, where something like what happened in Florida has happened,” he said. “I feel like at that moment, it would be too late to hear what we’ve been trying to say even before it happened.”
Part of what they’ve been trying to say is: gun control laws should be stricter. Williams said officials should ban guns on school campuses for students and teachers.
“A school is supposed to be a safe environment to learn, and if you can’t come to school and be safe, then what is the purpose?” she said.
Amari Glinton, the 11th-grade student government vice president, says in order to make a difference, students need to keep speaking their minds.
”We should have stuff like this [walkout] happen more often, and not just when something tragic happens to another school,” Glinton said.