More than 50 students, faculty and community members gathered at the Bell Tower to participate in the student-planned National School Walkout Friday afternoon.
Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting when two students killed 12 students and 1 teacher. So far this year, there have been 16,944 incidents of gun violence that have killed 4,275 people, according to the independent Gun Violence Archive.
More than 2,300 events were planned across the country for the National School Walkout today, USA Today reported.
Adam Leopold, a senior political science major, organized the walkout on Facebook.
“This is something I’m very passionate about,” Leopold said to the crowd. “This event wasn’t meant to be political, but I am here today because I want to see people stop dying at the hands of firearms.”
Julia Albro-Fisher, a middle school student from Massachusetts who organized a walkout at her school a few weeks ago, spoke to the crowd at the Bell Tower about her experiences as a young student in America practicing lockdown drills in preparation for a potential shooter.
“I do not understand why it is so difficult for people to choose between guns and children,” Albro-Fisher said. “Our government has taken the time to control so many things, when I can drive, vote, drink, you control me, but you do not protect me, and that makes me very anxious. Lockdown drills aren’t stopping school shootings.”
Five high school students from Mastery Charter School Shoemaker Campus in West Philadelphia and Raised Woke, a Philadelphia-based youth activism organization, spoke about gun violence, wearing shirts that read #PoliticizeMyDeath.
“We need change, change that will assure every student feels safe,” said Tatiana Amaya, a junior at Mastery Shoemaker Campus. “Every teacher can teach without being armed with a weapon, and every single person, regardless of your religion, sexuality and, what oftentimes is most forgotten about, your race.”
Rosalind Pichardo is the founder of Operation Save Our City, an organization that helps families affected by gun violence grieve and find justice by encouraging them to work with police and spoke about how gun violence has affected her life on Friday.
Pichardo lost her brother and boyfriend to gun violence and is a survivor of an attempted homicide.
“They have taken our loved ones away, but not our ability to speak our truth as sisters, mother, grandmothers, friends, Temple students, as the community,” Pichardo said. “Fighting against the ignorance, injustice, and violence has become the norm for many of us that have suffered such losses, but we shall continue to fight in honor, in hope that our loved ones’ names will never fade away.”
Jeff Dempsey, the education program director of Ceasefire PA, an organization that works with local government to take a stand against gun violence, spoke about the actions of Pennsylvania and U.S. legislatures and the importance of voting.
“It’s easy to look around and feel that our legislatures have done nothing. But that’s incorrect, they’ve done worse than nothing,” Dempsey said to the crowd. “We have to ensure that our candidates, the people we are selecting to represent us, are gun violence prevention champions.”
Some Temple students felt compelled to share their thoughts on gun violence, like freshman psychology major Jessica Pingor.
“It’s really hard to see people talk about these issues in such a negative way when there are literally children dying,” Pingor said to the crowd. “Teachers are risking their lives when all they wanted to do was teach and help these children learn and grow and live in an America that is safe. How many more people have to die before people realize that guns are the problem?”
Ewan Johnson, a junior public relations major, spoke the crowd about his fears as a “Black man living in Trump’s America.”
“Everyday I’m scared about what my life means, and how my life is portrayed to other people,” Johnson said. “I see myself in every single one of these situations, and it scares me beyond belief. I have to go through this. … I have to worry about the perception of what it means to look like me and be like me in this world.”
Leopold said he is thankful for the walkout’s on-campus support.
“There were a lot of people who really believed what we were doing,” Leopold told The Temple News. “Towards the end, people started to peter out, but it didn’t matter. I would rather speak to 20 people who care about the issue than speak to 400 who just want to get out of class.”