Diversity and Inclusion in the March for Our Lives

This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of people participated in the March for Our Lives in Washington, DC, and demonstrations throughout the country.  One of the things that impressed me the most about the kids who spoke at the march in Washington was the spirit of diversity and empathy that infused the entire demonstration.  Real diversity requires not only the inclusion of people who are different, but also an acknowledgement of difference, an attempt to understand those differences, and empathy towards the experience of others.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the kids from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida is their willingness to reach out to kids who are different from themselves and include them in their cause.

The Parkland kids experienced an unspeakable tragedy when a lone gunman shot and killed 17 people; their classmates, friends and teachers.  At the March For Our Lives, they spoke about the horrors that they had experienced, and decried the lack of safety in schools throughout the country.  The most striking tribute was that of Emma Gonzalez, with her dramatic four minutes of silence.  Along with representatives from Newtown, Connecticut, the kids from Parkland spoke for the 187,000 children in our country who have been directly involved in mass shootings in schools. 

However, the Parkland kids were not the only speakers at the demonstration.  Shortly after the February 14 Parkland shooting, student leaders from Parkland traveled to Chicago to talk to other teenagers who have been traumatized by gun violence.  They learned about the millions of children, primarily children of color, who are threatened by gun violence every day of their lives.  Some of the people that they met also spoke to the crowd at the Washington march.  Speakers included kids from inner city neighborhoods including Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, Washington and Baltimore.  Those speakers represented the millions of people who have spent their entire lives in constant fear of gun violence in their neighborhoods, and the children who experience daily fear and trauma.

Almost all of the speakers had one thing in common; they had been directly affected by gun violence.  The speakers from Parkland and Newtown had been in school during a terrifying mass shooting.  All of them had directly experienced that trauma, and lost friends, family members and teachers.  The other speakers had also lost loved ones to gun violence.  Their brothers, sisters, and nephews had been gunned down on city streets.  Zion Kelly, from Washington, DC, told the crowd about losing his twin brother last fall when an armed robber shot and killed him.  Edna Chavez, from South Central Los Angeles, described watching her brother shot and killed on the streets of her neighborhood.  Chavez explained that gun violence was a normal part of her life, that she had learned to dodge bullets before she learned to read. 

All of the speakers at the march were 18 years old or under.  They emphasized their tragic commonality, but they also talked about the real differences in their lives.  Though they had tragedy in common, these kids came from different backgrounds and income levels.  The kids from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school in Parkland, Florida are largely white and relatively affluent.   The other speakers were children of color who live in relatively poor neighborhoods that are plagued by crime and violence.  The speakers acknowledged their differences.  For example, Parkland student David Hogg admitted that his white privilege was one of the reasons that the Parkland kids have gotten so much national attention.  They have consciously used their notoriety to provide a platform for the other speakers who do not regularly grab headlines.  Those students added to the debate over how to address gun violence with their personal experiences.  For example, Edna Chavez explained why arming teachers is an inadequate solution for kids of color who are already being treated like criminals in school. 

In our increasingly diverse world, it is a challenge to communicate effectively people who are different from ourselves.  The teenagers at the March For Our Lives talked easily and openly about their differences, and more importantly, they listened.  In this movement marked by intersectionality, they are trying to come up with a solution to gun violence that is informed by all of their experiences.  Whatever happens with their campaign to end gun violence, the Parkland kids and their allies have taught all of us a lesson on how to be truly diverse, inclusive, and empathetic.  In the words of the band The Who, The Kids Are Alright.

This blog entry was first published on TheFacultyLounge.org on March 27, 2018.