From Awareness to Action: Raising Student Activists Determined to Change the World

March 22, 2018

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER

 

Several months ago, Rebecca Padnos Altamirano and I began planning the birth and eventual launch of the WalkWoke App, a protest sign making app developed to magnify the voices of all and unite our efforts to enact real change. In doing so, we drew on our own past experiences as individuals, as well as mothers.

Not only did we seek to enable adults in taking a stand against violence, hatred, ignorance, and cruelty, but we also sought to empower youth and guide them in developing a solid ethic core. As Rebecca maintains, “We must teach our children the imperative of righteous resilience so that they will indeed have the needed muscle memory to act when they do witness injustice.”

In empowering others to drive real change through the WalkWoke App, I am proud to have served as a role model for my children to not lay down and accept the injustice surrounding us, but to stand strong and demand action. Teaching our children to speak out in the face of injustice in real time will drive resilient and morally-focused future leaders.

Most recently, my eldest daughter, Ashley Carter, an eighth grade student at Rochambeau Middle School in Southbury, Connecticut, took the leap from being aware of an issue to feeling empowered to take a stand and fight against injustice. Having been personally affected by the massacre at Sandy Hook, gun violence has always been an issue of passion for Ashley.

Despite school administration resistance, Ashley organized a National School Walkout event on March 14, 2018. Drawing on her determination to drive real change, Ashley gathered over 130 student signatures on a petition for students to unite and rise in a National School Walkout to protest gun violence. Organizing the event was no simple matter. Ashley faced being turned down by administration in planning a “walk-out,” having one student throw her petition in a puddle, and a large decrease in participants after a permission slip from parents became required.

Equipped with the determination to never give up despite opposition, Ashley eventually gained administration approval for a "walk-in." Ashley comments, "I feel they [administrators] are trying to sweep this under the rug by saying they are supporting participation by students who are interested, but putting up such strong guidelines that it makes actual participation an uphill battle.”

Ashley, true testament that determination and resilience are key ingredients in driving action and change, shares the speech she read at the National School Walkout.

Activist and Gun Reform Speech by Student Ashley Carter, 13

SPEAK UP

ENOUGH: Join Me In Demanding Safety Backed by Real Gun Reform

Why did 17 students die at a shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on February 14, 2018, while others huddled in closets and other areas saying goodbye to loved ones?

Why did Congress ‘send their prayers’ to the families who lost their children in school shootings and do nothing else?

Why do we accept parents giving their children a kiss before they leave for school, fearing it will be the last time they see their children?

Why did 7,000 children die from shootings since Sandy Hook? 7,000 little girls and boys senselessly taken from this world.

Why are students, such as us, standing up for our rights while Congress refuses to protect us?

Why do children have to worry about being killed at school when they should be worrying about homework assignments, how they’re going to style their hair in the morning, or who will ask them to the next dance?

This is ENOUGH!

We have had ENOUGH

Today, students and staff all across our country are saying ENOUGH.

Today, right now, right here, we are using our first amendment rights to protest.

I am here today because when I was in third grade, the Sandy Hook shooting greatly impacted my seemingly safe world. After the shooting, the school closed down and its students were sent to nearby schools. Some of those students came to my school. I became friends with students who witnessed the shooting. Friends with 8 and 9 year olds who are scarred for the rest of their lives because of the violence they were exposed to.

Do you think it is easy to forget the loud sound of a bullet being fired at a young kindergartener or first grader? Do you think those students are able to forget having to hide in closets or under desks as a shooter was just outside their classroom, armed and ready to fire? I speak in unity for all the students who lived the Sandy Hook tragedy and say NO! It is unforgettable.

I understand that many other students in our school think that what we are doing right now is useless. But do you know what? While other students are sitting in a classroom reading a book, we are here, changing our world, and starting a movement to keep us safe. Thoughts and prayers, although well intended, are not effective in making schools safe for all. We are doers, we unite, we push each other toward a greater good, and we do what we can to fight for what we believe in. Even if we are not supported by administrators to have an actual walk-out, we stand in solidarity, given the administration restrictions we have to work with, to talk, to plan, and to eventually act.

Because believe it or not, you will remember this day for the rest of your lives. Someday, when we are older, and kissing our children goodbye as they get on the bus for school, we will not have to be afraid that will be the last time we see our children. The more we talk, plan and act, the faster we will drive real change in this world. Change that will protect us not only now, but also protect the lives of children in generations to come.

In years to come, every one of us in this room today will remember that we are the reason no one is afraid of school violence, we will remember we stood up, despite administration resistance, and said ENOUGH!

I applaud each of you here today who chose to attend this administration-modified “walk-in” in our small, all-purpose room to say ENOUGH in the face of gun violence.

And after today, may this not be the last time that you stand up against the injustice happening around us.

Go out, spread the word, unite and encourage others to join you. Use your voice to speak out and Repeat! Repeat! Repeat! until we see action. Know now that we are not done, and we refuse to give up until we feel safe.

Because if you don’t take action, and if you don’t believe you can make a difference, nothing will get done. School shootings will become the new “normal.”

Don’t doubt your support or question if one person can really make a difference. Everyone’s active support matters. We all contribute to the rising movement of students against gun violence. The chain of solidarity we have built throughout the nation over the past month will be smaller and less forceful without your active support. And sadly, all of the tomorrow’s might very well be a repeat of February 14, 2018.

Continue to fight - just as Malala did, like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony and all others with the determination to not stand down in the face of opposition and the strength to keep pushing forward until the dawn of change is realized. Because one day, will be us on that leader list. We will be remembered for spearheading a path toward a safe future.

BY TARA MATAMOROS CARTER
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES, GUN REFORM, GUN VIOLENCE, TIME’S UP, RESISTANCE MOVEMENT, ACTIVISM, YOUNG LEADERS, WALKWOKE