Although many of the walkouts among students across the country on March 14 centered on gun violence in schools, the demonstration staged by around 100 students at North Lawndale College Prep focused on whole communities wracked by violence and poverty, but insufficiently equipped to deal with those problems.
While leaders of the North Lawndale protest condemned the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Florida's Marjory Stonemon Douglas High School, which prompted the nationwide walkouts, they also condemned what they said is the nationwide apathy that accompanies gun-related murders in black and brown communities.
Some students marched from a campus on 16th and Christiana to Douglas Park, where a short press conference was held, with red tape over their mouths that showed the names of murdered loved ones scrawled in black marker. At the park, the kids also planted 10 purple crosses in the grass, the photos of victims taped to the transverse sections.
"We are gathered here today to insure direct investment in communities of color, investment in employment opportunities, wraparound services and trauma-informed schooling and investments in mental health services," said Alex King, a senior at North Lawndale College Prep and a leader in the newly formed student organization "Good Kids Mad City."
The organization, King said, is the result of a collaboration between students in Chicago and Baltimore who are also allied with the activists who have emerged from the Florida mass shooting.
King said that he and some of his colleagues visited some Marjory Stonemon Douglas students in Parkland, Fla., where they all shared trauma stories and vowed to "support one another."
After the press conference, Marjory Stonemon student [XXXX] mentioned King on Twitter, writing that King and the West Side school "been fighting for so long and we are going to make this change together, Finally [sic]."
During last week's press conference, King was among several students who shared their experiences with gun violence. King said that his 16-year-old nephew, Daishawn Moore, was killed last May — two weeks after his birthday.
After the murder, King said he entered a "dark place." He stopped going to work and "started hanging with the wrong people."
"With the help of friend and colleagues, I found a way to come out of that dark place," he said, adding that "it's not right" that he and many others who are affected by gun violence often have to face the aftermath alone, without professional services.
"Without proper grassroots resources, this issue of violence will not be solved," he said. "We won't stop until we are properly resources in our community."
When she was a freshman in high school, Nancy Ramirez — a student from the South Side — said that her older brother was shot to death "a few blocks down from his school."
"If his after-school program wasn't shut down, maybe he'd still be alive," she said. "My friend who was shot to death could've been a star football player in college.
At 13 years old, her mother was shot several times in their home, Ramirez said, adding that "because of that, we were separated from her."
"I am a victim of an underfunded, under-resourced community," she said. "I come from a community that has an epidemic of violence."
Carolyn Vessel, the CEO and president of I Am Abel Center for Family Development, 3410 W. Roosevelt Rd., said that her organization delivers what's called the Trauma Response and Intervention Movement — designed to deal with trauma and violence "eight blocks at a time" with social and emotional learning tools.
"It is so unfortunate these students have to take out of their academic time to be out here doing something they don't have to be doing," Vessel said. "I want to repent … Adults have failed, we have failed you."
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