ETHS hosts Stoneman Douglas students for anti-gun violence forum


Katie Pach / Daily Senior Staffer

Sofie Whitney (left) and Tyah Roberts speak at Evanston Township High School. They discussed how anti-gun activism changed their lives.

Cameron Cook, Reporter

In the latest in their efforts to start conversations about gun reform across the country, two Parkland activists stopped at Evanston Township High School Wednesday night, partnering with local students to perform and discuss gun violence.

The event, which included students sharing personal experiences and performing slam poetry, was a joint effort between the Democratic Party of Evanston and ETHS students. It brought together locals, youth leaders from Saint Sabina Church in Chicago and two students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In February, 17 people were shot and killed at Stoneman Douglas. The mass shooting spurred a nationwide movement in favor of stricter gun regulations.

“I’m here because I’m a follower of the students here,” said U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) while onstage. “They’re doing the organizing. Whatever you want me to, I’m going to be there for you, because you’re the ones who are going to change the world.”

Schakowsky praised the students for being “impatient and undauntable” in the face of policies that make guns easily available.

Tyah-Amoy Roberts, a Stoneman Douglas senior, and Sofie Whitney, who graduated from the school in Spring 2018, have been at the front of the movement to fight these policies.

They spoke to the audience about their experience with the mass shooting, its aftermath and how the March For Our Lives made an impact on them. The march, which took place nationwide on March 24, sought to raise awareness about gun violence across the country.

“Sharing experiences and sharing stories (is) the only way we’re going to be able to solve such a huge issue,” Roberts said during the event. “What we hope to do is make no one experience gun violence. We want to make a change, and we’re doing that through March For Our Lives.”

Early on, the Stoneman Douglas students were portrayed badly by the media, Whitney said. The students started a bus tour called Road to Change, aimed to clear up the misconceptions that they were “radical left-wing gun-grabbers.”

Road to Change started out by visiting every congressional district in Florida, and expanded nationally as their message gained popularity. However, the students weren’t originally welcomed so warmly.

“I wasn’t prepared for as much pushback as we got,” Roberts said while onstage.

At the first stop on their tour in Naperville, Roberts said, people in the crowd booed and wore T-shirts with offensive remarks. Instead of being discouraged, the Stoneman Douglas students spoke anyway and talked to people “completely different from (them)” in order to convince the public that anti-gun violence legislation was necessary.

“It turned into this thing where we understood each other,” Roberts said.

Whitney and Roberts also encouraged the audience to vote in the midterm elections.

“You need to vote,” Whitney said “There’s no question about it.”

Local students participated in the forum, highlighting the ways in which the lessons of Parkland could be applied to Chicago and Evanston.

ETHS Speech and Debate students talked about background checks, assault weapon bans and the public health implications of people with mental illnesses accessing guns.

In addition, ETHS students performed original poetry, and Saint Sabina youth leader Trevon Bosley reminded the audience that “everyday shootings are an everyday problem.”

Despite arriving in the Chicago area mere hours before the forum, Whitney said she could tell the Evanston community was invested in gun violence prevention.

“I’m excited people want to hear about our story,” she said.

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