I have been working with or for youth my entire adult life. So when the tragic events of Parkland, Florida occurred last month, I was rattled to the core on both a personal and professional level. It was too easy to imagine myself huddled together with students and colleagues at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Soon afterwards, I found myself consumed by media coverage of the event and its aftermath. I was overcome with emotion. Anger. Sadness. Confusion. But like many others, these feelings quickly changed. As if in an instant, I was swept up with new emotions. Hope. Inspiration. Pride. Following the event, Parkland teen survivors took immediate action and began to not just participate in, but lead, a national movement. Over the past month, Parkland teens have mobilized youth from all over the country, arranging marches, protests, and school walkouts, all of which have been captured and shared using social media.
The teens’ work has not just been for show; it has produced legislative changes. After making their voices heard at the Florida capitol, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to twenty-one and extending the waiting period to three days. Additionally, three major U.S. companies, Dick’s, Walmart, and Kroger, each announced they would no longer sell guns to customers younger than twenty-one and in some cases, no longer sell assault-style rifles. Dick’s CEO, Edward Stack, credited the policy change to Parkland teen leaders, “When we take a look at what those kids and the parents and the heroes in the school, what they did, our view was if the kids can be brave enough to organize like this, we can be brave enough to take these [assault-style rifles] out of here.”
Regardless of your political leanings, the maturity and leadership shown by Parkland youth over the past several weeks is admirable. These teens have been able to start and sustain a national conversation about gun reform, a task adult representatives have been unable to do for decades. In considering this, I am once again filled with hope, inspiration, and pride. For if these teens can make great change in the wake of great tragedy, imagine what they can accomplish when given the best of advantages?
At PGK, we recognize – and applaud – the power of this new generation of leaders and change makers. We hope they continue to find their voices, and to use them for good. We only hope that next time, it need not come with such tragedy and sacrifice.
Photo credit: Mathias Wasik