It transpired more than 1,000 miles away, but the mass shooting that killed 17 people at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on February 14 hit close to home for Jaden Gray. The 18-year-old Lincoln Park High School senior thought of Cesar—the friend from dance class who was lost in a fatal shooting outside Curie Metro High School in June.
“I was heartbroken last year, and [after hearing the news of the Parkland massacre], I was heartbroken again,” says Gray.
Rampant gun violence and the laws that help enable it is part of what Gray plans on speaking about to her peers during the ENOUGH! National School Walkout on Wednesday morning. “Schools should be a safe space for kids. And too often in this country, in places like Parkland and here in Chicago, they’re not,” she says.
Many CPS students are expected to participate in the nationwide walkout, which has been organized primarily by young people through Women’s March Youth Empower. The March 14 date is no coincidence—it marks the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that has since sparked a national conversation on gun control.
There are 2,545 different walkouts planned around the country, according to Empower’s website, including a bunch at schools in the city of Chicago. The walkouts are scheduled to last 17 minutes, one minute for each person who died in the mass shooting. What each student body does during those 17 minutes is ultimately up to them.
Lincoln Park High School students will read a list of the names of the victims of the Parkland shootings as well as a selection of the names of high school students killed by guns in Chicago. (“Only a few because, unfortunately, there are way too many here,” said Gray.)
At Walter Payton College Prep in Old Town, the students are planning to walk out of classrooms and exit the building using the fire exit and then link arms with each other around the school, according to Sarah Jester, an 18-year-old senior at the school. On their way back to their classrooms, they’ll chant slogan against gun violence and in favor of #BlackLivesMatter.
“I’m excited because it’s a show of solidarity across the entire country that will help show lawmakers that we’re serious about getting more gun legislation,” says Jester.
Jester says she also hopes her classmates will follow the example of some of the Parkland students and perhaps see the walkout as a first step of a long road of activism.
“It’s inspirational to see the Parkland kids leading forums and keeping politicians accountable,” she says. “I would love for students here to be more civically engaged from this. Here in Chicago, there’s a lot of money going towards the cop academy. We need more money for schools and away from guns, police, and prisons.”
The CPS administration appears to be supporting the walkout indirectly. Some schools have moved class schedules around to accommodate the walkouts and offered cafeterias or other designated spaces for students who opt out of participating. A CPS spokesperson declined to comment but offered a statement from CEO Janice Jackson:
“I fully support their desire to speak out. . . . This is a crucial moment in our country, and I want to make sure our students have an opportunity to express themselves and engage thoughtfully in our national dialogue. If students plan to participate in a demonstration, we will make sure it is safe and orderly.”