Mich. students to join walkouts to protest gun violence

Shawn D. Lewis
The Detroit News

Michigan students are standing in solidarity with students across the nation as they prepare to walk out of class to protest gun violence and the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida high school.

School walkouts are planned March 14, the one-month anniversary of the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and April 20, the 19th anniversary of the shooting deaths of 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado.

Students and parents say they want lawmakers to act to stop school shootings and other gun violence.

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And it’s not just high school students who will be protesting.

Isabella Cristini, 8, will be walking out of her Taylor elementary school on March 14 for 17 minutes — one minute for each person killed at Douglas High.

Her mom, Maria Cristini, 41, of Taylor said she is signing her daughter out of school at Quest Charter Academy in Taylor.

“From a very early age, I’ve taught my children that one voice, one act, one sign can make a difference,” said Cristini, who also plans a rally outside the school following the walkout. “They are Americans and these are our rights, and they are to be protected, practiced and cherished.”

She added, “This is no joke to us.”

School principal Ralph Garza said the staff will remain in the building during the walkout.

“But we support any of our parents and students who want to participate,” he said. “We understand the immense frustration everyone is feeling right now, as well as the need to speak out and encourage action. Nationally coordinated events allow us to collectively, across the U.S., come together on an issue and speak out.”

He added: “We’re glad our community has an outlet in which they can have their voices heard.”

High school senior Victoria D’Annunzio may be more than 1,300 miles away from Parkland, but on April 20, she is taking a stand outside Lake Orion High School to protest what she calls the lack of action to make students in public schools safe from gun violence.

“I feel the schools need more safety, and the protest will show people that as students we need more safety for our education to ensure a protected learning environment,” D’Annunzio said.

D’Annunzio is also among more than 79,000 people nationally who have signed a petition on change.org that is part of the second national school walkout to protest gun violence.

She signed the petition Monday when social media sites were buzzing about plans for student protests, rallies and walkouts.

“I believe no kid should have to go to school scared,” she said.

Kayla Sharpe, a junior at Grand Blanc High School in Genesee County, is organizing students there to join the April 20 walkout, saying that even though Florida is pretty far from Michigan, “who is to say my school isn’t next?”

“I was inspired to bring this movement to Grand Blanc because I know that our student body is filled with so much political drive and passion, but they feel as if they have no outlets or as if they can’t help for some reason,” said Sharpe, 16. “If nobody takes a stand, then nothing will be accomplished.

“Helping students organize a way to make posters and stand outside to protest for gun reform will catch the attention of our lawmakers, and they will be forced to be with us, or be disliked and without us.”

Officials at other Michigan districts aren’t actively opposing protest plans.

The Detroit Public Schools Community District will be discussing the planned walkouts with students.

“We are interested in seeing that our students have any opportunity to network and advocate with students across the country on this most important issue,” Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said. “I will be meeting with student leaders to discuss their interest in participation after our midwinter break next week.”

The West Bloomfield School District will leave it up to students whether to join next month’s walkout.

“If students wish to participate in the 17-minute classroom protest, they will be allowed,” said district spokeswoman Pamela Zajac.

Local author and historian Danielle McGuire said student protesters “have the ability to call on the nation’s conscience because they’re young and still have that aura of innocence.”

“When we look at the civil rights movement, the Vietnam anti-war movement or the free speech movement, we see students at the center,” said McGuire, of Huntington Woods. “College students led the sit-ins against segregation in the 1960s, and young people in high school led the Birmingham campaign in 1963 when the Rev. Martin Luther King was jailed.”

She attributed the new wave of student activism to “young people’s ability to see our problems and solutions more clearly than adults, because they can march and demand what’s right and don’t have to worry about being fired or ridiculed.”


Jennifer Chambers contributed.