Henry Sibley students join march to end gun violence in Washington, D.C.


courtesy of Janine Bauert • A group of students from Henry Sibley High School in Mendota Heights calling themselves MNeverAgain traveled to Washington, D.C., to take part in the March For Our Lives rally on March 24. The march was to raise awareness about gun violence in light of the recent school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

photo courtesy of Janine Bauert • The MNeverAgain group is now on its way to becoming a registered nonprofit.

photo courtesy of Janine Bauert • While MNeverAgain was in Washington, D.C., group members had a chance to visit various monuments and learn about different social movements, including those started by youth.

Trip to D.C. is a first step.

 

A group of 36 students and 10 chaperones loaded onto buses March 22 to begin the more than 1,000-mile trip to Washington D.C. 

The group, MNeverAgain, was traveling to the nation’s capitol to be part of the March for Our Lives on March 24.

Started as a group of Henry Sibley High School students traveling to the march, the group is now in the process of becoming an official nonprofit that reaches across party lines calling for sensible, comprehensive gun control laws. 

 

The start of something bigger

Joe Campbell and his wife Emily started the organization in their living room as a way to “generate urgency among students to advocate for gun violence prevention measures in both Washington and St. Paul.”

Campbell, a Sibley graduate, said he wanted to give Minnesota students a front row seat to history, so they could make history in Minnesota.

“After watching Emma Gonzales give her now famous ‘We Call BS’ speech, I knew I needed to get students from Minnesota to D.C. to witness this movement firsthand,” Campbell said, referencing the survivor of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting who has become an icon in the student movement against gun violence.

The group’s original goal was to raise $5,000 to send five students. In fewer than two days, the group raised $15,000, which included a $1,000 donation from Gov. Mark Dayton, Campbell said. By the time the group boarded buses for D.C., it had raised $31,500 to send 36 students and 10 chaperones to the march. 

 

Student involvement 

Henry Sibley seniors Devin Bauert, Gabe Miller and Jorge Esparza Hernandez, along with sophomore Khadija Sharif, all joined MNeverAgain and went to Washington. All found out about the trip in their own way. 

Bauert helped plan the Sibley March 14 walkout that protested gun violence, and said she knew she wanted to be involved with the general movement. 

As part of being on the speech team, Sharif said she has to learn about current political issues facing the country.

“I remember reading about gun violence and seeing that it’s such a problem, yet our politicians don’t do anything and the NRA still gives them money” Sharif said. “I knew that if I could do anything about it, I would.”

Miller said he’s passionate about combating gun violence, pointing out he lives on the border of West St. Paul, which he describes as not being the nicest area. For him, he said it was common sense that people shouldn’t be able to own certain kinds of guns.

During an information meeting before the trip, Esparza Hernandez said there was some tension — the students were nervous about going.

“I knew that Joe himself sensed that tension, and he did talk about the safety of the march ... That helped us with the mental preparation,” he said.

 

A life-changing trip

After the long bus ride, the group arrived in D.C. Sharif said the first day they were there the group visited a number of famous places, including the Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Jefferson and Lincoln memorials — there was a history teacher on the trip

“She taught us how the movements were started by the youth and she taught us the significance of these movements and why what we were doing mattered,” Sharif said. 

The teacher discussed the Little Rock Nine before the group went to the MLK memorial, and Esparza Hernandez said “you could hear a pin drop” on the bus when she stopped talking.  

Miller said he thought there’d be an actual march, but it turned out to be a three-hour gathering on Pennsylvania Avenue listening to various speakers talk about their experiences with gun violence. 

The event wasn’t what Miller said he was expecting — it was better.

Sharif said standing in the crowd listening to people speak was a life-changing experience. 

“Being around your peers who believe that change needs to happen and being around this movement was an amazing experience,” she said.

Esparza Hernandez said that while there were big-name celebrities there, he doesn’t think the group was very intrigued by them — those gathered wanted them to let other people speak.

Listening to the speeches put into perspective how little direct experience the Sibley students had with gun violence, Bauert said.

“As much as we try to educate ourselves about it, without witnessing that and hearing the people who have experienced gun violence talk about their first-person point of view, I don’t think we would have been able to fully understand what it’s truly like,” Bauert said. 

Esparza Hernandez said when Emma Gonzales was speaking, those watching at home might have understood a moment of silence was happening, but being there was a more powerful thing.

 

Raising voices together

Bauert said the trip showed her the power of what a couple of teenagers can do. Esparza Hernandez added that before the march, a lot of the rhetoric was how, as kids, they don’t have valid opinions.

“That was definitely thrown out the window ... It’s not about my individual voice, but when people get together, and get together in that large of a group, it’s very impactful,” he said.

Sharif said that once she was there with everyone else at the march, she was able to realize her voice and the voice of her peers do matter when it comes to the future of the country.

Miller said there is a misconception by some who think students are calling to take away all guns.

Another argument that keeps popping on up social media is how the focus needs to be on bullying and not gun control or gun violence prevention — an argument Esparza Hernandez said doesn’t hold water.

“I personally feel it’s a deflection of responsibility, that the adults and politicians who say this believe it is our reasonability as students to fix this, instead of their responsibility as politicians to enact new laws,” Esparza Hernandez said. 

Campbell said it’s sad the youth have to be so vocal for change because adults are elected to deal with these issues. He said students are supposed to be studying for the SATs, learning lines for their high school musicals and playing sports — not leading a national movement to keep themselves safe. 

“But since our elected leaders won’t do anything about it, I’m so thankful for these students for their bravery and their dedication to helping to solve this issue,” he said.

 

Moving forward

MNeverAgain is in the process of becoming a registered nonprofit. Bauert said there are people who got waitlisted on the trip, so the group is planning on expanding, as well as creating a board of directors. 

Bauert added they want the group to be a nonpartisan effort across the state. She added the group knows that gun control is important but to get more support, the organization can’t just be pro gun control. School security is another thing they have talked about that is important to students everywhere.

“The school security that gets added to prevent things like these shouldn’t make the students feel like they’re suspects,” Bauert said. 

When asked why this is a movement that so many young people have spoken out in support of, Esparza Hernandez said it’s because there are leaders.

“When Parkland happened and that group of students decided to be the leaders of this movement, that allowed for everyone else to follow, when they couldn’t step up to be a leader on the national scale,” he said. 

Bauert added the movement has been building up for years. Miller said there is a chance now for all voices to be heard. 

Without comprehensive gun legislation, Sharif said there will always be a certain level of fear in places of learning.

Referencing the American Revolution and how students feel put upon by politicians who don’t listen, said Esparza Hernandez: “I think this is definitely our taxation without representation moment.”


 

– Hannah Burlingame can be reached at 651-748-7824 or hburlingame@lillienews.com

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