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Chicago students march against gun violence — to the polls

John Hancock College Prep High School students march to the polls rejecting gun violence. | Alexandra Arriaga/Sun-Times

Two years ago, 16-year-old Victor Felix was shot and killed on his walk to school. His peers, who are now seniors at John Hancock College Prep High School, are taking out their anger over gun violence by voting.

Students in Chicago are getting ready for a national school walkout in protest of gun violence and in solidarity with Parkland school shooting survivors. As part of non-profit Chicago Votes’ Parade to the Polls program, Hancock students led a different march: to the polls.  They walked the mile distance from the school to their polling location, the Chicago Public Library’s Archer Heights Branch, raising posters that read “stop the violence” and “everything we do is for baby Vic.”

Hancock, located in the 13th Ward and 3rd Congressional District, is a selective enrollment school, is made up of 94 percent Hispanic and 86 percent low-income students.

In the school’s auditorium, Chicago Votes Deputy Director Rudy Garrett prepared the students for the march. They went over the voting guide prepared by students in their civics classes, and discussed where candidates stood on issues such as healthcare and taxes. To the playlist of Drake, Migos and Chance the Rapper, students made their posters and got ready to march. On their way out the door, students signed out with security and walked through the metal detectors that screen them every day.

“Who pays taxes here?” Garrett asked students, to which students raised their hands. “Who remembers Victor Felix?”

“We want to make sure he’s remembered. He would have been part of this senior class, voting with y’all,” Garrett said.

Jordan Espinoza would often share a locker with Felix, and was one of the last people to see him alive — he considered him a brother.

Jordan Espinoza was one of the last people who saw Victor Felix before he was killed, said losing him was “devastating.” | Alexandra Arriaga/Sun-Times

“It was devastating for a lot of us, he was our gentle giant, every class he went into made everything warm, and he brought the class together,” Espinoza said. He said voting in this election makes him feel like can do something to have an impact against gun violence.

Espinoza said for his community, the national momentum for gun regulation feels “long overdue” — but voting in this election makes him feel like he can do something to have an impact against gun violence.

“I hear that there’s all the memorials in Florida, but if you go down the street here you’ll see five memorials. And that’s sad, universally,” Espinoza said. “It’s something we’ve been seeing our whole lives, it’s almost a norm.”

A gun dealer licensing bill was sent to Gov. Bruce Rauner on Feb. 28. He vetoed the bill Tuesday, after stalling for two weeks under pressure from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic gubernatorial rivals.

Vanessa Luna, Victor Felix’s sister, said she’ll vote against him in November if he’s on the ballot.

“Why would he say no? That’s killing innocent kids, innocent people,” Luna said. “No one should have to go through what I went through.”

Nanette Luna, Victor Felix’s mother, joined the young voters at the polls. | Alexandra Arriaga/Sun-Times

Nanette Luna, Felix’s mother, met with the young voters at the Archer Heights voting location — she still feels to emotional to go back to the school.

“It means a lot that these kids are willing to make a change, they all lost someone very special,” Luna said. “We’re losing our kids, and it doesn’t need to be this way.”

Felix’s grandmother, Lauren Perez, also came to the polls to greet the students. She remembers Felix as a bright honor roll student who loved basketball and “wanted to be the next Michael Jordan.”

“My grandson was innocent, walking to school and he was killed. There are so many young kids, boys and girls that fear for their lives, they have to look behind their backs all the time because they just can’t walk down the street anymore,” Perez said.