March 14, 2018 marked exactly one month since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. To support one another and speak out in memory of the lives lost to mass school shootings, students joined the National Student Walkout On Gun Violence on Wednesday, March 14. Spearheaded by EMPOWER (the youth branch of the Women's March), the group worked with students like the Marjory Stoneman Douglas student leaders to stand up for the 17 lives lost on Feb. 14. In North Carolina, one student took on this cause on his own. Justin Blackman's National Student Walkout video is a wonderful representation of what activism is truly all about.
While many students are following the lead of the Florida high-schoolers who have had enough when it comes to the all too common instances of school shootings in the United States, the message about gun control seemed to only strike a chord with one student at Wilson Preparatory Academy in Wilson, North Carolina. According to CNN, Blackman was the only student out of an estimated student body of 700 students who stood up on Wednesday, March 14 at 10 a.m. and exited his classroom. Disregarding the fact that he was the sole protestor, 16-year-old Blackman joined the nationwide movement because it is something he believes in.
Blackman posted a video of himself to his Twitter account (@JustinIBlackman) after he walked out of his Spanish class alone, and he relayed that intended to stay out there for the full 17 minutes (a minute for each life lost on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida) that was set by the walkout organizers. In a video of Blackman speaking with CNN's Don Lemon on Wednesday, Blackman elaborated on his motivations. Blackman referenced the "common issue" of school shootings in the United States, and he advocated for protecting students' futures by protecting the schools from gun violence. He explained, "If someone gets gun-blazing one day, that's their future gone."
Blackman embodied what activism is all about when he stood outside of his high school for 17 minutes — not because it was the popular choice or because everyone else was doing it, but because of his strong belief in the cause advocating for gun legislation. It appears Blackman learned that sometimes what's right for you isn't the popular choice, but he didn't let his being the sole participant deter him from standing up for his beliefs.
Speaking to his solo participation, Blackman shared that he believes it's his duty to speak up for the lives lost during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. He said, "They can't protest for anything anymore because they're dead — and I can."
Blackman acted on what he believes is right when he told his Spanish teacher that he was walking out for the national student walkout (CNN noted that his teacher, Mr. Mendez, let Blackman walk with no trouble at all), and the experience taught Blackman about how real change comes about. He told CNN, "Now, I truly know that one person is all it takes. No matter the age, skin color, gender—it doesn't matter."
While Blackman might have been alone outside of his North Carolina high school, he was receiving all the love and support for his activism on Twitter. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton and Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor to former President Barack Obama, applauded and showed their support for Blackman.
"You’re not alone Justin."
"Following your conscience is sometimes lonely but always right. Bravo, Justin Blackman. We have your back."
Jarrett's statement speaks to the kind of activism that Blackman embodied on Wednesday. While Blackman might have been "lonely" as he followed his conscience, he did it because he knew it was the right thing to do. CNN also reported that Blackman was not punished by Wilson Preparatory Academy for walking out.
Other students across the country also stood alone in their beliefs about enacting common sense gun laws to prevent mass school shootings, and one student in New Jersey did so even though there was a threat of a school suspension.
Rosa Rodriquez is a sophomore at Sayreville War Memorial High School in Parlin, New Jersey. The Sayreville Public School District reportedly threatened to suspend any walkout participants, according to the Miami Herald. Even so, Rodriguez exited her classroom at 10 a.m., and she didn't let her solo act deter her from standing up for what she believes is right. A tweet from ABC News reported that Rodriguez said, "I want to show I care about it, so I want to do something about it." Even with the threat of suspension and no apparent peer support, Rodriguez stood alone to stand up for what she believes.
While high school students have been the majority speaking up for school safety and gun control, a second-grader decided he wanted to join the cause, too, on Wednesday. CBS News in San Francisco reported that Leonardo Aguilar, a student at Trace Elementary School in San Jose, California, walked out of his second-grade classroom alone (accompanied by his mother) at 10 a.m. Aguilar's mom walked her son down the road to join the many walkout participants from Lincoln High School. The local news spoke to Aguilar, and he told them, "I’m protesting for the Florida shooting. I made a poster — as you can see — and I came here."
Many students across the country joined the National Student Walkout On Gun Violence, and their energy and activism is a hopeful sign for the possibility of real change. The other positive development from the day was the strength displayed by students like Blackman, Rodriguez, and Aguilar. The each stood alone at their respective schools in their beliefs and support of the protest, and seeing how they weren't deterred by the fact that their choice wasn't that of the majority of students at their school is really seeing true activism in action.
The aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting is something like this nation has never seen before. Led by student activists who will no longer stand for not feeling safe in their own schools, the call for common sense gun laws is louder than it has ever been. If you want to support these students and their cause, you can join their next protest on March 24 at the March For Our Lives.