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Caitlin Collins, 17, stands with a group of Whitmer High School students for 17 minutes of silence to protest for gun control and honor the Parkland victims on the athletic field on March 14, 2018.
During a silent protest at Whitmer High School, 17-year-old Caitlin Collins let a yellow sign held overhead speak for her.
“Sorry For The Inconvenience, We’re Trying To Change The World,” the sign read.
She was among thousands of young people across the country who banded together Wednesday to deliver a resounding message about gun violence: Enough is enough. Students from districts across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan joined the national movement. They walked out of class Wednesday, called for better gun control, and memorialized victims on the one-month anniversary of the mass shooting that left 17 people dead, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
The organized walkouts were part of the national campaign, “National Walkout Day,” where protests were expected to last 17 minutes in symbolic tribute to the Florida victims.
At Whitmer High School students and teachers gathered at the school track. At 10 a.m. the crowd fell silent with signs hoisted in the air. They stood then kneeled in silence for 17 minutes.
Members of the choir sing, "Amazing Grace" together around the flag pole as part of National Walkout Day Wednesday, March 14, 2018, at Rogers High School in Toledo.
At Rogers High School, 17 students gathered inside the library and sat in a circle for a solemn discussion about school safety with 17 adult community members. Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz, Police Chief George Kral, and TPS board president Polly Taylor-Gerken were present among others.
In a guided discussion facilitated by school principal Kelly Welch, the students had an opportunity to express how they felt about the current climate surrounding school safety.
“What do you think is motivating young people to speak regarding gun violence specifically in schools?” she asked the students.
“What makes us want to speak out is that it’s our generation,” said Brandon Powell, a 17-year-old Rogers’ student.
“It’s kids just like us. I know we don’t want violence in our schools because schools are our future, and we have to build for our future to be successful.”
The students were not shy about expressing their thoughts. The discussion extended beyond the expected 17 minutes and brought a few of the adults in the room to tears.
After listening to the students, Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz said he has hope that this current generation of students can generate some change.
“It is up to you and your generation to fix this problem,” he said. “The reason I have faith it will happen this time is because of this movement. I’ve never seen anything like it.
“While the grown-ups and the politicians … in Washington won’t solve it, you have said ‘To heck with them’ we’ll do it ourselves.’”
As the discussion was under way inside the school library, Rogers’ choir assembled in front of the school and used their voices to commemorate last month’s tragedy.
The students stood shoulder-to-shoulder, undeterred by the cold, circling the flagpole as they harmonized and sang “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”
Students walkout of Northview High School in Sylvania Wednesday, March 14, 2018, to show support for the 17 high school students shot and killed in Parkland, Florida last month.
In Sylvania, a few hundred Northview High School students streamed out of the building as Superintendent Adam Fineske held the door.
A few carried homemade signs on their way to the football stadium; the posters will be sent to Parkland survivors.
Senior Riley Runnells, 17, helped organize the event, which she made clear to her peers was not intended to make a political statement. Instead, she hoped to show the power of forming relationships.
A few hundred Northview students have filled the stands at the football stadium. pic.twitter.com/M0Aa5KD1Oe— Jay Skebba (@JaySkebba) March 14, 2018
"Whether you’re pro or anti-gun, I wanted to have both sides come together and really remember what happened in Parkland and ensure something like that never happens here or anywhere," Riley said. "So many of the people who have done these shootings are the ones that suffered from mental illness or were bullied at school. If they had students like this rallying to support them, they wouldn't have [school shootings] happen anymore."
As the scoreboard clock counted down from 17 minutes, Riley read the names of the 17 victims from last month's massacre. Mr. Fineske and Principal Steve Swaggerty were also present for the event.
Administrators and board of education members supported those who walked out, as well as students who decided not to participate and instead wore blue in support of the Second Amendment. Organizers of the walkout were told to proceed as if they were willing to get in trouble for making their voices heard.
"Whether it's these kids participating or the kids that wore blue who didn't, we want them to use the First Amendment," Mr. Swaggerty said. "In extreme cases, we want them to understand the power of civil disobedience ... and have a voice on an issue that really matters to them."
Riley received backlash from classmates who disagreed with the walkout. She said many were saying "horrible things" about her.
"A lot of people were super rude to me today," Riley said. "But who cares? It's the price you pay for wanting to stand up for a good cause and something you believe in. I watched those students from Parkland, and I watched those students from other places like Central Michigan [University]. How inspiring that they're willing to stand up for what they believe in."
Mr. Swaggerty is a former social studies teacher and recalled similar protests during the Vietnam War.
"This doesn't happen very often," he said. "For them, it's an issue that directly affects them. I was excited to see them say, 'Hey, we're going to break some rules today.'"
Other area schools that participated included Bowsher, Waite, Woodward, Toledo Early College, Anthony Wayne, Southview, Maumee, Perrysburg, and Bowling Green.
Students at Monroe High School in Michigan were discouraged from participating, but those who did are unlikely to be disciplined, according to a district spokesman.
#NationalSchoolWalkout Northwood students can be heard and will be heard. We will not be silenced!!! You have to fight for your rights. We can not be silent any longer, we are advocates for safety and THINGS WILL CHANGE. pic.twitter.com/wqmuqbOJKv— kayli Nelson (@18knelson) March 14, 2018
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