Irondale students, funded by alumni group, join D.C. gun march

submitted photo • Irondale students Lily Cartier and Gabriela Diaz at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., on March 24.

submitted photo • Irondale students Ian Mills, Claire Dubois, Haily Dabrowski, Gabriela Diaz and Lily Cartier in Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives March 24. The students’ flight to D.C. and hotel stay were paid for through a Go Fund Me campaign put on by an Irondale alumni group.

Among the throngs of students who descended on Washington, D.C., to march for stricter gun control last month was a group of Irondale High School students.

Organizers of the March for Our Lives on March 24, rallying in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Florida, school shooting, estimate 800,000 people attended.

“It was like the halls of Irondale, but multiply that by a lot, and that was the march,” said senior Ian Mills. “Except no one could move.”

On his national mall crawl, Mills held a sign that said “Graduations not funerals.”

Sophomore Lily Cartier’s sign read “We are more important than your guns.”

But before they could hoist placards and join like-minded students and citizens from around the country in making their voices heard, the students had to get there. 

Flights and hotel stays for students were funded through a Go Fund Me campaign organized by an alumni group that raised more than $4,000. The five students whose trips were funded by the campaign only had to cover food and transportation in D.C.

Once the students hit the pavement overlooking the Potomac, they had a full day ahead. The march, which also featured speakers and performers, was scheduled from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Irondale students stayed the entire time, said Cartier, finally calling it around 5 p.m.

Favorite moments for the two centered around speakers, though they enjoyed bumping into people along the march, and the convivial back-and-forth of asking where everyone was from.

Mills said seeing Martin Luther King Jr.’s granddaughter Yolanda King speak stuck out. He said listening to her talk about her grandfather’s dream, and then her “modern twist” on it, “was pretty hard hitting.” Cartier said she was moved by 11-year-old activist Naomi Wadler’s speech. 

Both said they found Emma Gonzalez’s speech inspirational, with Mills adding, “everyone was really hyped for her.” Gonzalez is the Parkland school shooting survivor who’s become an icon in the student-led movement against gun violence.

Being with like-minded people “was nice,” Cartier said, noting the emotional tone bounced between celebratory and determined.

Mills said the gathering was less about what they came together for and more about the coming together. He said it was “weirdly positive” at times. 

“Once speeches started, people were a lot more like ‘something needs to change,’” said Cartier. 


Making marching moves

After the trip, sipping coffee back on home turf at a coffee shop in New Brighton, Cartier reflected on why she went, acknowledging she wasn’t totally sure why, before the march. 

She said she already felt the need for gun policy reform, feelings she said really came to the fore when Irondale was momentarily rattled by what ultimately amounted to a hoax threat in March. The school was crawling with law enforcement the day of the fake threat, which she said was “honestly terrifying.”

But Cartier had no feelings about specific measures. Huddled among her peers in D.C. a few weeks removed from the unsettling sight of cop cars patrolling her school parking lot, it clicked. 

“No one should be able to have a gun like that,” said Cartier, referencing AR-15-style guns like the one used in Parkland. “Or someone your age can just go buy something like that?” continued Cartier incredulously, pointing to 18-year-old Mills. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

In the weeks leading up to the D.C. march, Mills was approached by classmate and fellow senior Molly Overkamp about his interest in a possible D.C. trip. He said he was already making plans to march the same day in St. Paul in response to Parkland and how shootings occur “again and again and again.”

Cartier said she didn’t know the majority of the people going. And neither did her mother. 

“My mom wasn’t going to let me go” said Cartier, who, at 15, had yet to be that far away from her mother. Cartier’s mom let up in classic sleepover-rules fashion, permitting her daughter to travel after meeting with the chaperone, a parent of one of the participants.  

“I brought it up to my mom first,” said Mills. 

Both thanked the fundraisers, who they said they don’t know, but still funded them anyway, “Which was pretty nice of them,” said Mills. 


Students lead, alumni just provide the dough

Sara DeKok, Irondale class of ‘99, is still tight with a group of friends from high school. They text almost daily. Politics is a frequent topic. 

One in the gang shared a story about a Twin Cities high school teacher who was raising money to send students to D.C.

“We thought, ‘we could do that,’” said DeKok, who works as a development director for a nonprofit organization. 

The alumni group, fueled partly by their own experiences as students during the time of the Columbine shooting, reached out to Irondale teachers willing to connect them to students who’d expressed interest in the march. Responses came in right away. 

DeKok said the alumni made it clear that their role is to support the students. The students are the leaders. If the students feel the best thing the alumni can help with is money, she said that is what they would do. 

“The grown ups right now are not doing their job of governing responsibly ... to keep our kids safe,” said DeKok. 

Students, spearheaded by Overkamp, prepared a detailed itinerary of flights and hotel accommodations, a full budget, which DeKok said fell just under $4,000. 

With the budget, DeKok said her alumni team set up the Go Fund Me web fundraiser with a $4,000 goal. It was reached in a couple days. 

Most of the gifts rushing in ranged between $20 and $100. One alumni, on the basis of anonymity, donated $1,000. 

DeKok said it was satisfying for her and fellow alumni fundraisers to be able to help, seeing the students be active and “provide a little bit of hope.”


– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at or 651-748-7815

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