Before February 14, we thought we had plenty of time. We wanted to do something that would make the world a better place, to fight for justice as lawyers or activists or crusading journalists, to be responsible citizens and raise good-hearted children. But first we had to finish high school.
After February 14, we knew how fast time could stop.
We learned so much at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. We studied Supreme Court decisions, read Shakespeare, and explored the mysteries of black holes. We spent a huge amount of time on contemporary issues like poverty and the environment. In our psychology classes, we talked about death and grief and mental illness. We debated gun control and the NRA. We spent a whole week studying school shootings. But it all seemed a little bit distant, a little bit like a dream. Either it happened before we were born, or it was happening somewhere else.
When it happened to us, we woke up. We knew we couldn’t wait until we got out of college and settled into jobs. We had to make the world a better place now. It was literally a matter of life and death.
So we stood up and tried to make our voices heard. We’re really proud of what we have accomplished so far, and are so grateful to all the people who have joined our cause. They gave us strength. They gave us hope. You give us hope.
But let’s face it—it’s not enough. And the merchants of chaos keep peddling their wares.
Sixteen days after we woke up, a man in Detroit who had just gotten out of a hospital where he was being treated for hallucinations shot and killed his daughter, her mother, his cousin, and two people who just happened to be there. Anyone who knows about history knows that the founders did not intend for anyone with an illness or a grievance to be able to take out their rage on the world with weapons that they could not have begun to imagine. This is madness.
It’s almost summer now, and the death count continues to rise in America. Without a radical change in America’s priorities and in our gun laws, our protests will have been in vain. Power and cynicism don’t give way easily. But we have no intention of stopping.
After you spend a few hours hiding in a classroom while your friends and teachers are slaughtered, you can’t stop thinking about how insane this is and how to change it. Volunteer in political campaigns? Try to fix the mental health system? Fight the gun lobbyists? Push for comprehensive background checks?
We think you should. We hope you do. There is a whole world to change.
You probably don’t know who Tyra Hemans is. She was at Parkland that day and she had friends die. She was with us in Tallahassee when we asked our state legislators to do something. She was with us at the march on Washington. She’s a great speaker and a loving person. But we got famous and she didn’t.
What about Zion Kelly? In September 2017, Zion’s twin brother, Zaire, was murdered in Northeast Washington, D.C., by a kid with a gun. Zaire—a standout student and athlete at Thurgood Marshall Academy—was just sixteen years old. To honor his brother’s memory and find meaning in his loss, Zion, who is as shy as Zaire was outgoing, has nonetheless made it his mission to stand up, speak out, and change the world. We were honored that he joined us on stage in Washington. But we got famous, and he didn’t.
Or what about the protests at Liberty City in Miami? Four kids were shot there in April, and two of them died. One of them was about to get inducted into the National Honor Society. Hundreds of students turned out to protest. Only one newspaper went to cover the protest, only one reporter actually bothered to interview them. The TV coverage was shot from a helicopter, and made the Liberty City protest look like a riot. We got headlines, they didn’t.
Those kids tried to make their voices heard just like we did. They lived through the exact same thing we lived through. But they don’t live in a gated community. They are from a lower socioeconomic status and they are a different color. Instead of riding their bikes to school listening to NPR on their iPhones without even thinking someone might shoot them, they had to worry about it every day. In raw statistics, their odds of getting shot are twice as high as ours, and a lot of American kids just like them live in places where they have a higher death rate than soldiers in Afghanistan.
We’re super glad people are listening to us, but we’re not the story. We shouldn’t be the “stars” of the school-shooting generation, which is a horrifying thought on so many levels. If people only listen when privileged white kids get killed—and even then, only when the number of dead kids is high enough to make the news—we’re never going to fix this problem.