For them, “Columbine” is a lurid headline on a dusty newspaper, a blurry YouTube video, a parent’s grim memory.
And, for them, it is the beginning of an unacceptable kind of normal.
“I think of it as the start to this era when we have to be afraid of one of the places that should be our safest,” said Ginger Martin, 17, a junior at Jones College Prep High School.
What was then the deadliest school shooting in American history occurred in Littleton Colo., at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 — two years before Martin’s birth.
Martin and the hundreds of other marchers who walked out of schools across the city Friday — joining a national protest on the 19th anniversary of the shooting — say Columbine can never fade from memory because it comes to the fore every time someone opens fire in a school.
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“Columbine was what sparked everything,” Martin said.
The protesters gathered in Grant Park, holding aloft signs that evoked their grandparents’ generation — “Arms are for hugging” and “All we need is love” — and they railed against what they see as outdated views on guns and gun ownership.
“Dear America, Your children are scared to go to school,” said a Walter Payton College Prep High School teen who asked to be identified only as Michelle E. “We’ve been scared for a while. … What kind of country do we have where the children are taking the role of politicians and politicians act like children?”
Plenty of kids said it’s time to give the old political guard the boot, and encourage some younger, more diverse thinking. But concrete solutions to ending the bloodshed in schools were harder to find Friday.
There was no shortage of youthful optimism, though.
“We’re the future,” said Jake Schulgasser, 16, a sophomore at Jones. “We can do it. If anybody can, it’s us. Nobody knows how to figure these solutions out. So we’re gonna be the first ones to have a chance at it.”
Joshua MacLeod, 14, who attends Taft High School in the Norwood Park neighborhood, said he and his buddies faced resistance from administrators who didn’t support students walking out.
“We just decided it was worth it to come out here and make our voices heard,” MacLeod said. “We think our lives are more valuable than missing a few classes.”
The walkout on Friday follows a national one that took place on March 14, one month after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed.