Area students rally to stop gun violence

March 15, 2018 GMT

The “kids” have had enough. They have had enough of the school shootings. They have had enough of violent threats. They have had enough of being silent while kids their age have died throughout the nation.

On Wednesday morning, more than 1,300 high school students from Kankakee County participated in the student-led National School Walkout, joining thousands of other schools throughout the nation in a rally against violence one month after 17 people died in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

About 1,000 Kankakee High School students walked out of the school at 10 a.m. wearing orange ribbons and tape. Some carried signs as they left footprints in the snow-covered ground on their way to the high school football field.

There, they had 17 students release balloons as a student organizer named the victims of the Parkland shooting. They then brought the attention back to Kankakee by having the parents of three deceased Kankakee High School students release balloons to remember their loved ones.

Those students were Andrevion Jones, a 13-year-old Kankakee Junior High School student who was shot to death by a 16-year-old in July 2016; Mishawn Green, a 15-year-old student who was shot to death in June 2017 in Englewood; and Kevin Wright, a 19-year-old Kankakee High School graduate, who was shot to death in October 2017.

Students standing on the field got noticeably emotional as Jones’ name was called. The steam from their deep breaths and bowed heads floated with the balloons they released. Jones would have been a junior at the high school this year.

“It hurt when they said everyone’s name,” KHS junior Keegan Cogswell said. “We should feel safe. There shouldn’t have been Sandy Hook. There shouldn’t have been Columbine. There shouldn’t have been Parkland.

“And we shouldn’t have lost A.J. He should have been out there with us. He should have been in the crowd. He should have been holding a balloon. He should be a junior with us, making jokes in Spanish class and acting goofy like he used to do. Instead, his mother was here today, releasing a balloon because of senseless violence.”

Having lost classmates to violence, the Kankakee students promoted an anti-bullying message centered around positivity and peace — the same way they did when they walked the streets after Jones’ death; the same way they did at the end of last school year when they walked through the city’s downtown.

“It doesn’t feel real when someone you know passes because of violence,” KHS sophomore Jayson Verrett said. “You see it on the news every day, and it’s surreal. We shouldn’t have to be scared. We shouldn’t have to think of someone coming into a school and shooting at us.

“Sadly, it happens. We need to acknowledge it happens. We need to acknowledge it happens way too often these days. It has happened in our community. We need to send a message of peace, positivity and love because there is not enough of it these days. If we really push that on the public, it will spread.”

About 200 Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School students walked out despite the administration canceling the rally the night before because of threats called into the Bradley Police Department.

BBCHS administrators, nonetheless, anticipated students would walk out, like they promised through the school’s walkout Twitter page. Bradley police blocked off three blocks of North Street so that the students could safely voice their opinions outside for 17 minutes.

Students chanted, “We want change,” and displayed signs demanding legislation that would keep schools safe. They also linked hands in a circle and held a prayer service.

“I’m tired of the school shootings that have been happening all over the country, and I’m tired of the lack of control people have over their guns,” BBCHS senior Jace Ronek said. “I think there needs to be a wider outreach for those who need help and more action in the community when it comes to mental health and keeping our schools safe.”

No students will be disciplined for walking out. None of them were late to classes, BBCHS Superintendent Scott Wakeley said.

Just before the 10 a.m. national walkout started, Grant Park High School students asked school administrators if they could participate. About 50 students gathered around the school’s flagpole with administrators and police nearby. Principal Matt Maxwell also talked to students about the significance of the walkout movement.

Herscher High School and Bishop McNamara Catholic High School also had indoor rallies.

Now that the “kids” have expressed their opinion, much more lies ahead. And the “kids” are ready for it, as they brand their generation as one that will not tolerate violence.

“It was a good real life civics lesson,” Wakeley said. “It’s great to have a walkout for 17 minutes and for the kids to have their voices heard. A rally is easy. Now comes the hard part. They have to do this in the hallways and the workplace. They have to do it on social media. That’s where we will find out around the country if adults and kids are serious about making changes.”