Why will students walk out today? To change the world

ByJacqueline Gallegos, Samantha Nava and King Northington (op-ed)

Read the full article at HoustonChronicle.com >

We are students from KIPP Sunnyside High School who would like to create a better world. This year, we founded an organization called Students for Social Justice to address the injustices that affect our local and global communities, such as gun violence, racism, gender inequality, police brutality and educational inequity. Our organization understands that we will not solve all of these, but we feel that we must be a part of the solution or we become a part of the problem.

Students for Social Justice stands for the fulfillment of social justice and equity in our local and global communities. We may be teenagers, but our positions and opinions should not be overlooked. We want to be a part of a country that is measured by how it treats all of its citizens regardless of race, class, gender or sexual identity — not by gross domestic product. As students, we fully understand the world we live in but are not satisfied with our current state. We believe that through our voice and our action we can build a better tomorrow.

We created this group because we were inspired by the people in our community who are striving to make change in partnership with other national movements. Movements that support immigrants, women, the LBGTQ community and black lives are just a few that inspire our call to action. This week, however, we seek to directly improve our local communities by harnessing the momentum of the national March for Our Lives protests and raise our voices in Houston to speak out against gun violence in schools.

Our main inspiration comes from our community and school. Gun violence is deeply personal to at KIPP Sunnyside High School. In 2013, a student committed suicide at home using a gun. A few years later, a KIPP Sunnyside High School alum was murdered near his home while trying to protect a neighbor. These events are ever-present in our hearts and have forever changed the fabric of our school.

This year we have engaged in lockdown drills, and at one point, we had an actual lockdown because of the threat of gun violence at a neighboring school. We believe that our teachers and leaders at our school are doing everything in their power to keep students safe, and they have supported our efforts to organize this demonstration. Despite their efforts, we still must go to school each day in fear that what happened in Parkland, Fla., could happen at our school.

We come to school to learn, not to be afraid for our lives.

Sunnyside is a historic African-American community that has produced successful doctors, lawyers, politicians and entertainers. Our history, however, has been compromised by the wave of gun violence that impacts our community. If you Google “Sunnyside” you will find articles that name the neighborhood as the sixth most dangerous in the United States. Many of the students at KIPP Sunnyside High School have personal stories they can share about the loss of family members and friends to gun violence.

We hope the walkout will help ignite a movement at our school for change. As students we have studied historic events such as the Enlightenment and civil rights movements. We’ve read books such as “The Hate You Give” and learned about heroes who have created change for the better. We, too, want to be the change for better.

We are young, and we will be vocal. We want to achieve so much more in our communities and in our own lives. We have been blessed in so many ways, and yet we have also been confronted by harsh realities of gun violence and school shootings that are becoming a normalized part of our lived experiences. We are in school to acquire the tools to be successful in high school, college and life and build a better tomorrow for future generations.

The work doesn’t stop for us after Friday. We plan to engage local and state elected officials, participate in town hall conversations, and do our part to ensure that our campus remains a safe place that prioritizes student learning and student achievement.

We urge students, adults, lawmakers and community leaders to join us in taking a stand. If the youth represent the future, then please listen to our voices and take action to protect our communities and change the realities for people in Houston and beyond.

Gallegos, Nava and Northington are sophomores at KIPP Sunnyside High School.