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Ernest Hooper: Gun deaths draw together students from Strawberry Crest, nationwide

By Ernest Hooper | Times Columnist
Published: March 1, 2018
Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School responded to the campus shootings there with civic engagement, sparking a movement among teenagers that has spread nationwide. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Strawberry Crest High School sophomore Ndia Webb has launched a GoFund Me site in the hopes of raising enough money to give students from around the county a chance to participate in the March For Life in Washington, D.C., on March 24.

Students would go up on the evening of March 23, join the march the next day, spend the night in hotels after the protest and return on March 25 after an overnight stay a hotel. Teachers and parents who have previously volunteered for the district are encouraged to join the trip as chaperones.

Donations can be made at gofundme.com, search March for Our Lives hcps.

Ndia has set a goal of $100,000. So far, sheís raised close to $1,000.

But itís the effort, not the earnings, that matter most.

More than 200 miles stand between Strawberry Crest and Parkland Stoneman Douglas, but the gap has narrowed since 17 people lost their lives in a mass shooting at the school on Feb. 14. A moving spirit has connected students from around the state and around the nation.

So I genuinely got excited when I received an email from a student asking to help publicize this effort. A desire for a more perfect union has arisen in a generation we feared couldnít care. About anything.

"Since the beginning of our schooling, we have been taught that we control the government. ĎWe the peopleí are the first words in our constitution," Ndia wrote in an email. "And we the people are tired of watching all of these terrible things unfold right in front of our eyes and waiting until it happens to us to make a change."

Ndia (pronounced India) says itís not a red or blue issue, itís a people issue. The comment mirrors the poignant speeches and moving remarks from the students most affected by the deaths, and the kids who feel their pain.

Their rage, their anger, their fear already has spurred change. The state Legislature, the governor and the president are all promising to take steps to enhance safety. Iím far from convinced arming teachers is a smart move, and I know at least discussing an assault weapons ban is a wise move.

But the officials have made moves, and they stem from the fact students have made it clear they want something done. Nothing no longer serves as a sufficient response.

In his comments at a United Negro College Fund luncheon last week, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young spoke eloquently about how youth sparked some of the most seminal moments of the Civil Rights movement.

He sees it happening again.

"What you see these young people coming to grips with here in Florida is the fact they donít want guns," Young said. "They donít need guns for what their problems are, and it should not be possible for people to buy the Congress over the gun issue.

"These are teenagers and theyíre going to grow up so that they will become a new generation of leadership in the affairs not only of Florida, but of the nation."

In recent years, weíve saluted ambitious teens who have devoted countless hours to community service, started their own nonprofits, gone on mission trips and raised money and awareness for countless worthy efforts.

Now theyíve fused that same care and concern with a call to action. Theyíre not too young or too young to influence policy.

Iíd love to see Ndia and her small group of students raise enough money to take a great group to Washington, D.C. The event holds the potential to be historical and life-altering ó the kind of gathering they will talk about 50 or 60 years from now.

But if the effort comes up short, itís no less a proud moment for the students. You canít put a dollar value on civic engagement.

Thatís all Iím saying.