Yesterday evening, I stood in Pullen Memorial’s empty parking lot with my colleague and friend, the Rev. Nancy Petty, as two-by-two, group-by-group, sign-by-sign the students filled the space which soon became sacred ground.
This is one of the first opportunities in North Carolina that students have been given a platform to share their voices, to share their pain and frustrations, to demand a hearing from the powers that be. They addressed both local and national government officials who have neglected their duties of protecting the citizens of this country, namely children – who are being murdered in our schools due to a lack of accountable common-sense gun laws.
As the crowd gathered, the upbeat dance music blaring from the stage was quickly replaced with a nostalgic tenor of solace and despair; yet one by one as the teens emerged on stage with every dove that took flight, the hopes and dreams of a nation pierced the sunlit sky. Chapel Hill High School student Zainab Antepli raised her voice, with a steady stream of rage, fear and passion, of dreams and fading hopes saying, “Guns don’t stop guns! What stops guns are laws drafted and enforced. We are calling for common sense. We are calling for adults to start acting like it. We are not just children who don’t know what we are talking about.”
Several students from my congregation, Community UCC, participated in the vigil. Two lit candles on behalf of the Parkland, Florida, community grieving the losses of 17 beloved students and teachers, another was interviewed by the newspaper, two more marched to the capital beside family members young and old. These children are depending upon the leadership of this nation to act on behalf of its citizenry, to save their lives. One student as if begging for the lives of her peers even implored legislators to consider the greatest minds of her generation who are falling, one by one, at the hands of the NRA, saying, “We are your future”.
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This is disgraceful, and it must stop.
When I heard the news that House Speaker Tim Moore was assembling a House committee to discern a strategy to address the safety and well-being of Wake County Public Schools I was immediately dismissive, conditioned to the underwhelming and reactive results of North Carolina’s Republican leadership. Not only does this action isolate an entire segment of our population, foregoing a bi-partisan plan that represents the whole of North Carolina’s population, its aim to consider “arming school teachers” flies in the face of these students’ voices, and tramples upon the graves of the 14 murdered in Parkland by this same agenda: to combat violence with violence.
Listen to our children! Zainab Antepli screamed from the rooftops, pleading for an ear for those in charge to protect them, to stop killing them: “Guns don’t stop guns! What stops guns are laws drafted and enforced.”
Stop reacting, and start responding to the real issue of the day.
My partner is a Wake County Public Schools teacher, and my 5-year-old is a rising kindergartner; nothing makes me feel more anxious and less safe than sending my family into a potential war zone every day.
No More Guns!
The Rev. Jenny Shultz-Thomas is pastor at Community UCC in Raleigh.