WASHINGTON — Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people on Feb. 14, are kicking off in Chicago on Friday a national summer bus tour to curb gun violence, teaming with South and West Side teens tackling the shootings that have been plaguing the city for years.
While school shootings dominate national news when they all too often occur, the Chicago and Parkland students are joining forces to highlight that gun deaths taking place constantly – not just on one horrific day – demand the same attention.
The Parkland students “Road to Change” tour launches at 7 p.m. Friday at the annual “Rally for Peace” at St. Sabina’s Church, 1210 W. 78th Pl. Those students surprised the nation when they were able to swiftly organize a massive “March for our Lives” rally in Washington on March 24, with related marches in other cities.
Other guests at St. Sabina’s will include Jennifer Hudson and Chance the Rapper, both Chicagoans, and former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Az., who was shot in the head in 2011 – as were 18 others – in a supermarket parking lot near Tucson. Giffords founded and leads “Giffords,” an anti-gun violence national organization.
In Chicago, almost every elected official supports gun control measures and is immune to political pressure from the National Rifle Association.
On Saturday, the Parkland “Road to Change” bus heads to Naperville for a townhall with local activists to discuss gun reform in an area where local officials have been resistant to change when it comes to gun related laws.
The groups’ goal this summer, according to a mission statement, is to “register young people to vote and educate them about elected officials who refuse to stand up to the NRA.”
The townhall starts at 6 p.m. at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, with the 250 tickets already taken, distributed by the local “March for Our Lives” chapter.
I asked Parkland shooting survivor Sofie Whitney to explain why Chicago was picked to lead-off their “Road to Change” 20-state, at least 75-stop tour.
“Chicago is affected by gun violence every single day and their (student) voices haven’t been heard as loud as ours has been and it isn’t fair,” the 18-year-old Whitney said. “And we want to use our platform to elevate their voices.”
Among those voices are students in Chicago such as like Audreauna Wright, 17, the president of the “Peace Warrior” program, where the “warriors” are trained to try to defuse problems before they escalate.
Wright traveled to Parkland after the massacre to meet the survivors, later heading to Washington for the “March for our Lives” rally.
Wright, a rising senior at North Lawndale College Prep, told me, “We don’t want our lives surrounded with violence everyday.
“We don’t want gun violence that has become normalized in Chicago, and the Parkland students, they accepted the fact that gun violence is different here in Chicago than there in Parkland. This is our everyday tragedy. And it’s deeper than just the types of guns that the people use to kill,” Wright said.
In the wake of the Florida massacre, the Parkland students – who come from an affluent community – have generated a youth-driven movement starting with their “March For Our Lives” rally in Washington.
“March for our Lives” is now the name of the nonprofit group the students founded and is the organization overseeing the bus tour. There will be another bus tour focused on Florida, stopping in each congressional district in the state.
Since the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland, the students have become powerful activists calling for changes in gun laws, and the election of state and federal lawmakers who will take on the NRA.
As “Giffords” noted on its website, “From Parkland to Chicago, America’s young people are growing up in fear of gun violence. It shouldn’t be this way.”
Stops on the “Road to Change” tour
Friday, June 15: Chicago
Saturday, June 16: Naperville, Illinois
Sunday, June 17: St. Louis, Missouri
Monday, June 18: Kansas City, Kansas
Tuesday, June 19: Omaha, Nebraska
Wednesday, June 20: Sioux City, Iowa
Thursday, June 21: Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Thursday, June 21: Marion, Iowa
Friday, June 22: Janesville, Wisconsin
Saturday, June 23: Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sunday, June 24: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Sunday, June 24: Hennepin, Minnesota
Monday, June 25: Minneapolis, Minnesota
Tuesday, June 26: Moorhead, Minnesota
Wednesday, June 27: Standing Rock Sioux Reservation
Thursday, June 28: Bismarck, North Dakota
According to the March For Our Lives website, the Parkland students will visit Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Baltimore, Washington, DC, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut throughout July and August, for a total of over 50 planned stops in over 20 states across the country. The exact dates and locations are being planned.
Other students from “March For Our Lives” will hold a separate simultaneous tour specifically in Florida with 27 stops, visiting every congressional district and activating their local networks across the state.