March for Our Lives Was Only the Beginning…

“Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation, we are going to be a great generation!”

~Yolanda Renee King, at March for Our Lives, Washington, D.C.

Last Sunday, six of the students who were part of the Minnesota Conference youth delegation to the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. had the opportunity to preach during worship at their home congregations: Cecilia and Leo  at United Church of Christ New Brighton, and Gavin, Peter, Melina, and Sela at Peace United Church of Christ in Rochester. These youth shared their stories about and reflections on their experiences of the march, lobbying on Capitol Hill, and being part of this ongoing movement for change. They also provided words of challenge and hope for themselves, their peers, their faith communities, and for each of us covenanted together in the ongoing work to create a safer world for our children and a more just world for all.

At UCC New Brighton, Cecilia, age 17, shared what motivated her to be part of this movement by sharing the story of a student at her school who was shot earlier this year. “God’s heart broke when Andrew was shot on that bus and when every innocent person was killed. It should have ended after that. God’s heart broke after the Columbine shooting. It should have ended after Columbine. God’s heart broke after the Vegas shooting. It should have ended after Vegas. God’s heart broke after the Sandy Hook shooting. It should have ended after Sandy Hook. And God’s heart broke after Parkland. It needs to end after Parkland.

Gavin, age 17, shared with the congregation at Peace UCC in Rochester his perspectives about the lobbying visits . “During our first full day there we visited the offices of five Minnesota Congressional leaders in order to share our stance on the issue of gun violence and what needs to be done. We were able to meet with the staff of Erik Paulsen, Tom Emmer, Tim Walz, Amy Klobuchar, and Tina Smith…Most of us were able to share our thoughts on this controversial issue. Among the topics that we discussed were mental health, the implementation of universal background checks, and the ban of bump stocks and high capacity magazines that can be used to make semi-automatic weapons have the same fire power as fully automatic weapons. I believe the staff listened very intently to what we had to say and most of them agreed with the issues we want to see resolved. This was a very rewarding experience for all of us to be part of, and we hope that we can continue our political involvement down the road in order to be the change that we want to see in our country.”

“[I]t was a powerful moment. I felt God when my peers and I were speaking because we were all standing up for what we believe in,” said Cecilia, reflecting on her experience of the lobbying visits. “God calls us to do this. God calls us to stand up for stricter gun laws, CDC research, universal background checks, banning assault rifles, and ultimately choosing lives over guns. Because protecting a chunk of metal over a child’s life is NOT God’s image for us.”

Melina, age 16, described the experience of being part of the march, “We listened to a really awesomely diverse group of student speakers, the Parkland students (Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg, to name a few) and teens from Miami and Chicago and LA and Connecticut, with beautiful, scary, humbling, and interconnected stories of family and fear and rising out of that fear to say one thing: protecting people is more important than protecting corporate profits. These students formed their words into a powerful story chronicling how their everyday lives have come to be shaped by the guns that adults in power are defending out of the fear of breaking the status quo. These young people yelled, stood silent, and even threw up on live TV for our right to feel safe at school, and I’ll forever feel indebted to them for allowing me to use my voice to help myself and others.” Melina added, “I think I was especially moved by these outspoken young students of color that had experienced violence in their communities firsthand. Gun violence is a lifelong battle in their lives and it took a lot of courage for them to stand up on that stage and say the things they did; and for a lot of them, police violence is gun violence.”

The youth also helped their faith communities begin to think about the question “where do we go from here?” Peter, age 16, shared his concern about moving forward with Peace UCC. “[T]his movement for the time being seems to have culminated in the March for Our lives on March 24, and my worry is that now that it is over, people will start to relax. This time more than any other we cannot do that. We have to keep the pressure on, and we have to keep pushing for safer gun laws. None of us can vote yet, but you can…The next really big push will be the 2018 mid-term elections, and so it is very important for young people to get registered and it’s very important for all voters to elect candidates into Congress that will push for safer common-sense gun legislation. Beyond that try to be part of this movement in whatever way you can.”

Upon returning home from Washington, D.C., Leo, age 16, shared these thoughts, “The march really was only the beginning, the starting line, and if we are to make a difference we have to band together.” He went on to say, “we need to show them that we will continue to fight until everyone can feel safe riding public transportation, walking around in our own city and, most importantly, learning in our own schools. If we are to reach this finish line it is crucial that we involve all of the youth across America. This movement has been started by teenagers and a lot of these atrocities are affecting teenagers the hardest. It will be more powerful if we can get more and more teenagers to protest, spam our representatives’ email, lobby, write for school news, talk at church, and even to just spread the word. I believe that we can be the generation that can end this.”

As she concluded her reflections on Sunday, Melina shared this challenge with all of us, “I know that we as a church, as a progressive community, and as a country can move forward. I think we have to march into the uncomfortable. We need to get a little more nervous and have difficult conversations and welcome people who don’t look like us into those conversations. When I was there in DC, I could feel that reverberated throughout hundreds of thousands of people. Talking, connecting, and standing up for what we believe is what that day and that march is all about, and now it’s our job to put that to use here on our home turf. Empowered high school students and young adults from all over the country and the planet fighting and standing and shouting and freezing their butts off for the same things we are right here. It felt like magic and it still does.”

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