By Rick Wolcott*
“Alyssa Alhadeff, student, age14
Scott Beigel, teacher, age 35
Martin Duque Anguiano, student, age 14”
Outside Berea-Midpark High School, one by one the names were read of the 17 people killed during the Valentine’s Day shooting inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Berea-Midpark students joined thousands of others from schools across the country when they walked out of class on the one-month anniversary of the deadly shooting to protest the current gun control laws.
Gathered near the memorial garden before their march around the school, Ben, a Berea-Midpark senior, told his fellow Titans, “take out your phones, take pictures, take videos, use the hash tag enough is enough, show people that we are no longer sitting back and letting things happen.”
“Today is all about the students and has been organized by them,” said Berea-Midpark High School Principal Vincenzo Ruggiero. “Ben and the other students have been phenomenal in the planning of this march. This is a student movement and our role has been to support it.”
“Nicholas Dworet, student, age 17
Aaron Feis, football coach, age 37
Jaime Guttenberg, student, age 14”
Clergy and laity from the United Methodist Church of Berea (North Coast District) stood in the school parking lot, watching the protest and praying for the students participating in it.
“The issue of gun violence that prompted today’s walkout is one that our community and our congregation is concerned with and I think it’s always important for the church to show up and be a witness for what we believe when there’s an issue that impacts our neighbors,” said UMC Berea Senior Pastor the Rev. Nathan Howe.
“As a former educator and school principal, I feel this is a really critical issue for our students to undertake because of their safety,” said Claire Powell, a lay member of UMC Berea. “Hopefully they can be able to make a statement to the country and to the lawmakers and the NRA that there needs to be tighter gun control laws so that these incidents of gun violence will stop and children can feel safe when they go to school every day.”
“I think there is value in supporting the youth of our community and the causes that they believe in. I think we need to stand with them and to pray for and with them,” said UMC Berea lay member Don Moody.
Ben was encouraged that members of the community were present for the walkout.
“It makes me happy that people have come out and are supporting what we are doing,” he said.
Outside Chaney High School in Youngstown, students also began their walkout by reading the names of those who lost their lives in the Parkland shooting.
“Chris Hixon, athletic director, age 49
Luke Hoyer, student, age 15
Cara Loughran, student, age 14”
Rev. Abby Auman, Mahoning Valley District superintendent, was in attendance offering prayer and showing her support.
“It is important to show the students that adults care about them and their safety, and that The United Methodist Church stands with them in calling for reform,” she said. “I don’t know how Columbine wasn’t enough. I don’t know how Sandy Hook wasn’t enough, or Chardon, or any of the other mass shootings enabled by AR-15s. So if these high school students are ready and willing to stand up and say that gun ownership in America does not have to be an all or nothing proposition, and that their lives matter more than unlimited and unfettered gun ownership, I’m willing to stand with them and support them however I can.”
“Gina Montalto, student, age 14
Joaquin Oliver, student, age 17
Alaina Petty, student, age 14
Meadow Pollack, student, age 18”
“It was amazing to see so many students stand up for something,” said the Rev. Kelsey Orosan, pastor of Richard Brown Memorial and Trinity UMCs in Youngstown, and associate pastor of Boardman UMC.
She and Auman credit Richard Brown Memorial UMC members Penny Wells and Lucy Smith with organizing the Youngstown walkouts through their work with Sojourn to the Past, which takes students on a journey along the path of the Civil Rights Movement through the American South.
“The Sojourn students led the charge at all three Youngstown high schools with thoughtful and thought-provoking speeches that called students to take specific actions.” Orosan said.
In Youngstown and in Berea, students sent many messages on this day. With their feet, they walked in protest of current gun laws. With their hands, and the stroke of a pen, they registered to vote, giving them the power to make a difference at the polls.
“I’m encouraged by the students wanting to use their voice to share what’s on their hearts in the ways that they are peacefully protesting and making their concerns known to lawmakers,” said the Rev. Carrie Antczak, pastor of Christian formation and outreach at UMC Berea. “I want to support that the students are doing what they can to change the world that they live in.”
“Helena Ramsay, student, age 17
Alex Schachter, student, age 14
Carmen Schentrup, student, age 16
Peter Wang, student, age 15”
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.