By Sophia Ricco
In the year since Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the site of one of the deadliest mass shootings in America, students have risen up to demand gun reform and better school safety.
Just days after the shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 students and staff members dead and as many injured, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas announced a demonstration for gun legislation called “March for Our Lives.” This has been a rallying cry to students across the country to stand up and demand gun control legislation.
Local students Avalon Fenster and Sara Frawley founded March For Our Lives Long Island last March. The group has hosted school walkouts, candlelight vigils and election parties to spread their message. Members also attended a street dedication ceremony for fallen teacher Scott Beigel, a native of Dix Hills.
“As March For Our Lives Long Island has grown bigger, we are creating our own smaller branches, to get more involved with local schools and communities,” New York State Political Director of March For Our Lives Nicholas Likos said.
Likos, a high school junior from Melville got involved with the organization after Fenster selected his essay —written from the perspective of a teacher about the effects of school shootings — for a competition. Even though Long Island has never experienced a mass school shooting MFOL-LI’s mission is to combat gun violence of any kind.
“Some people say ‘gun violence doesn’t pertain to me because I’ve never been in a school shooting.’ But if you live in an area where there is gun violence, it’s just as much your issue as it is mine,” Likos said.
MFOL-LI wants to ensure the youth have a voice in every community. They take a “grassroots” approach, working with students to outline goals that they then deliver to their own school administration.
“Some communities on Long Island are afraid to take the initiative and become involved because they don’t feel either group allies with their ideals, when in reality we just need to focus on everybody, every student, and try to see what will best suit their needs,” Likos said.
As they work to have more branches at schools, MFOL-LI hopes to bring two workshops to the local community. They want to break the negative connection between mental health and gun violence, by getting certified by the National Alliance on Mental Illness to educate and assist those struggling with mental health to find help.
The group also wants to teach educators and students how to triage crisis and deal with emergency situations with “Stop the Bleed.”
“The issue with ‘Stop the Bleed’ is you want students and faculty to be prepared. By the same token you don’t want students to be afraid by reinstating that fear,” Likos said, adding, “in a way, we kinda need to do that to provoke that this is real.”
In the days following the Parkland shooting, Likos admits he and his classmates were shaken, but took action by orchestrating the student walkout at his school. In response, his principal asked him to outline measures the school could take to improve safety.
“Now doors are locked at all times, everyone has to wear an ID, and in every classroom there is line of tape at every door that shows where the ‘line of sight’ is,” Likos said. “It’s the little things that count and it really shows that this wave the youth initiative has created is being respected by adults. They are having conversations with us.”
MFOL-LI also works to have open communication with government officials at all levels. During MFOL-LI’s recent general meeting, State Senator Jim Gaughran burst into the room to inform them that he was on his way to Albany where the governor was to sign the Red Flag Act. He made a pit stop to tell them the news.
The Red Flag Act gives educators a direct route to follow if a student poses a threat or makes others feel uncomfortable. Teachers work with students on a day-to-day basis and many at Marjory Stoneman Douglas revealed they had concerns about the shooter but didn’t know where to report it.
“This was essentially something we all were working towards, there was an uproar of cheers and everyone was so happy,” Likos said. “It was interesting and crazy to see we had a direct impact on that movement, we as individuals, who are all still in high school.”
Anyone interested in joining the cause is encouraged to email firstname.lastname@example.org.