Parkland Students Hold Town Hall in Naperville

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On February 14 an armed gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Since the tragedy, students who experienced that gun violence have become activists to end it.

Their movement, March For Our Lives, was brought to Naperville for the second stop in the group’s “Road To Change” tour.

“Naperville and Parkland have very similar demographics. Parkland was named the safest city in Florida for eight years in a row. We didn’t experience gun violence in any form until this incident occurred. It shows you that nowhere in this country is safe until we are all safe,” said Matt Deitsch, the chief strategist at March for Our Lives and a former MSD student.

The town hall at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church last night featured students from Downers Grove North and students from Chicago who were joined by Parkland students for a discussion about gun violence in our communities.

“A lot of people love to call us gun grabbers,” said Parkland student Jammal Lemy. “And I never knew that’s what it meant when I wanted to save my friend’s lives or wanted to save youth in communities severely affected by gun violence. But we are not gun grabbers. We just want to implement programs that will allow these kids to live full, successful lives.”

“In Chicago there are a lot of misconceptions, whether it’s wrong place, wrong time or gang violence. And it’s really not that at all. It’s senseless acts of violence that is being normalized. And what we are trying to do is we’re trying to have justice, and trying to fight for awareness to try to let people know that the situations that you are put in shouldn’t be normal. Losing someone shouldn’t be normal,” said Alex King, a youth organizer from Chicago.

Traveling through 20 states for town halls, rallies, and public displays, the core of the tour is “REV”, or register, educate, vote.

“Of course we want to reach out to one of the most underserved subgroups of voters, which would be the young people. They don’t vote in as big of numbers as the other demographics. So we think it’s just awesome that they’re having this event and that we’re here to try to register as many students as we can,” explained Annette Smith, the voter service chair for League of Women Voters of Naperville.

A few hundred came out for the event, including local candidates and residents, while local students took the front rows in the audience.

“I want to come out here mostly to hear the Parkland kids and hear what they have to say,” said West Aurora High School student Isabella Yarbrough. “They’ve just inspired me so much. Ever since I was little I was raised in kind of a political household but I’ve never like, taken action or really done anything. I’ve just been like ‘I’m a political teen what’s up!’ And I feel like with this whole movement that they’ve started that it’s enabled me to do things and actually write letters and say things to get friends together and walk out of school, and it’s given me confidence and inspiration.”

At the end of the evening, the Downers Grove North students presented the Parkland students with a check for over $1,000 they raised to go toward the March For Our Lives movement.

“In our first effort to move forward with Chicago students, we are donating all of that money to,” announced Parkland student Cameron Kasky.

It was a gift that the Parkland students also doubled.

“Because if we all come together on this we can show how strong we are when we unite. If we’re divided we’re going nowhere,” added Kasky.

Naperville News 17’s Christine Lena reports.