We spoke to four student activists who claim March For Our Lives was just the beginning.
“I was so impressed with how the students at March for our Lives spoke,” a woman at my gym said to me before asking the question, “I wonder who is organizing them and writing their speeches?”
Unfortunately, she has not been alone in asking these types of questions in the aftermath of the March. In fact, I haven’t had a single conversation with anyone over the age of 30 about March for Our Lives that didn’t allude to such line of reasoning. Even after reading my post, “March For Our Lives: We are going to be a great generation!” readers still walked away thinking there was some omnipresent body instructing students in the background on what to say, how to feel and what to do.
So I went straight to the source. I reached out to the students that I met outside the White House the day before March for Our Lives D.C. The same students I had written about previously – the ones holding the signs and demanding gun legislation as they blasted “Shine,” the piano ballad written by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Sawyer Garrity and Andrea Peña.
I spoke to Trinity, a New Jersey student, who was the only one who participated in National Walk Out Day at her Christian high school. I spoke to Frank, an Orlando native who attends the University of Florida and is organizing actions on his campus. I spoke to Cas, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas student who came face-to-face with the shooter. And lastly, I spoke to Kenidra, a 17-year old mental health advocate, who’s helping so many at such a young age and helped connect Trinity, Frank, and Cas.
Here are their stories.
“I don’t understand how so many adults can be so critical,” Trinity Jagdeo told me during a phone conversation. “They are always complaining about how we don’t do anything, and then we come together. We’re doing something, and now it’s someone else putting something together, or it’s an organization putting it together, and we are paid to do it. It’s not fair how you can be so critical that we sit on the couch and play Pokémon. Now we are out there, in perhaps the biggest march and we’re still being criticized. You can’t win with people like that.”
Trinity is a mixed-race, 17-year-old who goes to a Christian private school in Cumberland County, New Jersey. She was the only student at her school to participate in #NationalWalkOutDay. “We didn’t really talk about it,” Trinity told me. “The student-body didn’t get a chance to talk about it, although we made attempts to talk about it with our principal, but it never worked out.” Instead, Trinity’s principal announced that if anyone were to walk out, there would be disciplinary action. “That scared everybody and they didn’t want to do it,” Trinity said. “This cause is really important to me, in supporting others who have gone through this, I needed to show that I cared enough, so I wasn’t worried about the consequences.”
She bravely walked out of her high school on March 14th, like so many other students around the country.
Trinity has since faced ridicule from her teachers and a former pastor. “I expect [the teachers] to be more respectful [than my peers] because they are the adults. They kind of stooped to a lower level,” Trinity explained. “When I first walked inside they acted like what I did was un-Christian like. Most of them are conservative. The school stands as conservative. So they looked at me sideways. A lot of them were shocked and just stared at me for a while expecting an answer. One of my teachers, she asked me did I even pray for the families? Do I even really get involved? They called the walkouts ridiculous. [They] called the organizers of the walkouts idiots. It has been really rough.”
It was not just the teachers at her High School who didn’t understand why Trinity participated in the national movement. Trinity’s former pastor engaged with her on Facebook. “My old pastor got into an argument with me on Facebook,” Trinity upsettingly told me. “I was able to talk him through it, and he came to an understanding.”
For Trinity, it has been eye-opening that so many adults brushed her aside. “When you have so many people who [you] thought would support you, especially adults, and you know a pastor is big, going back-and-forth with a teenager, you realize that not everyone is going to understand because they don’t want to understand. But the least everyone [should] expect is respect. As they expect teenagers to respect adults in school, we expect adults to respect us when we are here trying to be in a better environment. It’s heartbreaking.”
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT PARKLAND?
Gun violence has affected Trinity and her family. “The murder of one of my family members just went to trial,” Trinity said. “We were well aware of the gun violence that takes place and how cruel it really is, but I wasn’t taking action like I should have.” It was David Hogg’s video, as well as other videos Parkland Students posted on their social media accounts, that affected Trinity. “I probably cried for hours after seeing the raw videos from Parkland,” Trinity tells me with a pause in her voice. “That’s when I decided enough is enough.”
“Parkland made me research more,” the self-proclaimed ambiguous queen tells me. “I knew New Jersey had strict gun laws but I never really looked into it until Parkland. I knew I was going to make sure I was part of the movement to make a change. It was Parkland that opened the door.”
No one has told Frank Kravchuk, a 21-year-old Orlando native enrolled at the University of Florida, what to say. “No, not even in the slightest,” he told me during a phone conversation. He and I began chatting on Twitter. “I am that person who is very vocal,” Frank tells me as he laughs. It was his way of telling me that no one speaks for him, or tells him what to say and to move on to another question because he has a lot to say. If anything, he says, people have advised him on how to say what he wants to say so people can better understand the issue.
“I’m not told what to say,” he insists.
EXPERIENCE WITH GUN VIOLENCE.
Frank went to Cooms Academy of Information Technology for high school in Sanford, Florida. “There is a lot of gun violence outside of [Cooms],” he told me. “We have been on lockdowns,” he continues, “but we never had anyone come on campus. I think that [during my junior year in 2014] we were on lockdown at least two or three times. It was kind of a regular occurrence, which I don’t like saying, but it was the case at the time.”
“One day it was after hours,” Frank went on. “We were working in the media center on the first floor on some project for one of my teachers, and we were in there doing our thing when I heard what I thought was cracking noises outside. I didn’t think much of it until we had an administrator come in through the door and said there was a shooter across the street and we need to get on lockdown and hide in the corner. We sat there for a while. We didn’t know what was going on. I was sitting in the corner, I remember, the shooter actually walked onto campus.”
Frank decided to look out the window of the first-floor classroom, and he locked eyes with the shooter. “He looked right at me,” Frank tells me with a nervous pitch to his voice. “He kept walking. I heard one of our security guards chasing him, and he was able to get him off campus but was not able to catch him.”
That moment, bunkered down in a lockdown where a shooter used his high school campus as an escape route, was hard for Frank to get over. “It is always in the back of my mind,” he told me. “Everyone always told me to forget about it. It won’t happen again. I was forced to think things; to keep [those things bottled up] inside. I didn’t even talk to my parents about it. I was on edge.”
In June of last year a disgruntled ex-employee fatally shot five at an Orlando business, Fiamma (that is only a 5 to 10 minute drive from the house where Frank grew up). It was another incident where gun violence occurred in his community.
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT PARKLAND?
I asked Frank, a native Orlandoian and an LGBTQ advocate, what made Parkland the catalyst for him to get involved in gun-safety issues and not The Pulse Nightclub Shooting that left 49 dead and 58 injured, or the Trayvon Martin shooting, which occurred in the same town as his High School? “I really got spurred into it after Parkland,” he said. “With Pulse, I went to the vigil in Orlando. I balled my eyes out. But the news cycle didn’t do anything. [Gov.] Rick Scott sent us his condolences, but nothing really followed that. After Parkland, that was the straw that broke the camels back; we need to be doing something, things need to change.”
For Frank, it was an age thing that made Parkland different than previous gun violence incidents he either experienced or read about. “A lot of the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas dealt with gun violence at the same age I did,” Frank said. “It is not okay,” he went on, “at this point, I have been affected enough, I am definitely in this for the long haul.”
“We are still people, aren’t we?” Marjory Stoneman Douglas student, Cas Becher, told me during a FaceTime call. “There is a very, very gray line where kids’ opinions should be taken seriously. That gray line is called maturity. The second that day happened everyone matured. In 6 minutes and 20 seconds we aged 100 years; and the mental repercussions will last a lifetime. We are struggling to say we have a voice too. Most of the kids who are up there with Emma [González], who is a good friend of mine and I am very proud of her, they are all pretty much seniors, and I am just a freshman, but I have a voice too, and I am trying to be as outspoken as I can be with my own words and no one else’s because I still have a voice and I want to make that very prominent.”
“If we are old enough to get shot at, we are old enough to say something about it” Cas asserted herself.
WE’RE NOT IN KANSAS ANYMORE.
I first got introduced to Cas’s story by Cas’s mother, Casey. We met outside the White House while watching Cas, Trinity and Frank protest. Casey emotionally told me that they moved from Kansas City in 2016 and picked where they were going to live based on Stoneman Douglas High School.
“The whole reason we chose our house was that we could go to Stoneman Douglas High School,” Cas confirmed what her mom previous told me. “It was appealing to my parents because of the way the school was rated, a grade-A school. It was one of the top-tier schools in America, and they wanted my brother and I to go there.” Cas was not happy with the decision to move, let alone go to another school.”
“I was in the car moving to Florida,” Cas told me. “I drove through Orlando [the day after The Pulse Nightclub Shooting]. As an LGBT kid, recently finding out their sexuality, I was there. I knew this was not going to be good for me; moving to Florida. I had this uneasy feeling. If this is what happens here then I much rather be back in Kansas because I sure as hell don’t want to be here and have my life in danger at the hands of someone with a gun.”
Sensing my follow-up question to that somewhat ironic statement, Cas said, “I was a scared kid moving to Florida driving through Orlando the day after Pulse. I was a scared gay kid born in a white Christian town, two hours away from the Westboro Baptist Church and I’d rather be there, and that says something, I think?”
Cas who identifies as gender fluid and uses the pronouns they/them eventually found a community at Stoneman Douglas. “There is a GSA [Gay Straight Alliance]. I found a little community; a niche of friends. I felt accepted. I felt I could use my name, my pronouns and people respected that and that was a first for me. Of course, my parents accepted me but being out and accepted in a community?”
FEBRUARY 14, 2018.
Cas, who has had to tell it a hundred times before told me how that awful day back in February went down:
“It was Valentine’s Day. I bought a bouquet of roses to surprise my friends. I was handing them out in the morning, and it was wonderful. It was a normal day, well as normal as it could have been. I remember laying on Emma González and Leonor’s [Munoz] lap just chilling, being friends…Leonor was teaching me how to dance and unsuccessfully teaching me how to move my hips correctly. I can ramble about that moment for days. That moment came to an end.
“It was a normal 4th period until the fire alarm went off and that’s when things started to go downhill. I jumped out of my seat. I remember thinking, ‘again?’ But I knew it was not a drill when Mr. Porter went over the speaker and said, ‘attention students and staff please evacuate the building you are in.’ I grabbed my stuff. I was like ‘I have $200 or so worth of art stuff with me, I am not leaving that so I grabbed my stuff and got ready. I was one of the first to leave the classroom.”
Cas starts to get visibly emotional. You could tell Cas holds back the s. “I walked outside almost leading the way,” Cas went on. “We stopped in front of the courtyard because there was a man there. He was holding a gun. My brain blacks out at what happens next. All I remember is the gunshot. I remember the gunshot very clearly. I remember the gunshot. Then our first Sargent, It’s a JROTC, our Cadet First Sargent turned around and said, ‘get back to class now’. The culinary teacher who is adjacent to JROTC opened her door and said this is a code red, not a drill and get in my classroom. I went to her classroom. The same room as David Hogg.”
“I remember bits and pieces. I remember the panic attack that I had for quite a while. They were getting me water and telling me to breathe. They were trying to get me to calm down in a room of 40 to 60 of us. I had my roses and chocolates with me still, and I was offering everyone chocolate. It was stupid. But I was trying to calm everyone down while I was panicking inside. And then I remember something: Where is my twin brother? Where is he? Is he okay? He’s in Spanish class. Is he okay?”
“I got up. I needed to go find my brother, but they pushed me back down, I need to go find my brother. They pushed me back down. This time I stood up and tried to leave more than I had before. I need to find him. Is he okay? I don’t know if he is okay. Let me go. Let me go. They pushed me down again. That was the last time I tried because then I got in contact with my mom and knew he was already evacuated. And that is the thing that sticks with me the most. The third time being restrained and them saying Cas you need to sit down. We spent about two hours in the closet. There are no words for it.”
“Personally, I am glad I couldn’t hear. Maybe I wasn’t paying attention. Maybe I could hear it, but I blocked it out. I don’t know. My memory has gone to shit since. It’s no longer in my memory exactly what happened. I remember that first gunshot very well. It’s like a nightmare, but too realistic. I remember being evacuated, running along with hands like this [Cas lifts her hands over her head like we have seen way too many students have to do as their school is evacuated] running along. I remember crying with officers there and saying ‘thank you.’ I remember being out of breath but I kept pushing through because I needed to get away. Then we were out. Then came the search for my brother. Where was he?”
“It turns out he was in a different evacuation zone, but I could not find him. I didn’t have contact with my mom because I had to borrow someone else’s phone to get in contact with her. My mom would go up to 30 minutes without hearing a word from me because cell reception was bad and the bandwidth of being attacked with tons and tons of phone calls and texts.”
STARRING INTO A BARREL OF A GUN.
“One of the huge choices I made,” Cas told me about that day, “was finding myself in these few split seconds. I have grown up with mental illness for 4-years now. Suicidal ideation and depression and a whole slew of things and I remember walking down the hallway seeing [the shooter] and saying to myself, ‘run at him.’ I said, ‘Don’t do that’. ‘Don’t make yourself a hero. You are not’. I turned around and left. But I didn’t run. I walked, hoping maybe,” Cas said with a long pause, “I haven’t admitted it, what I was thinking, but I think everyone can figure it out. That was February 14, 2018, the worst day of my life.”
“We are students that have been through experiences of our own,” 17-year old activist Kenidra Woods told me via email. “No one can tell you our stories better than we can. We are finally stepping up to the plate saying enough is enough. We took the initiative to use our own voices for change and that’s the biggest step forward I’ve seen thus far.”
Woods, a mental health advocate from St. Louis, Missouri became a gun safety advocate following the death of Michael Brown, “I began in Ferguson, MO, following Michael Brown’s death. Even then, I wasn’t just looking at school shootings because in that case a police unjustifiably shot and killed an unarmed black male,” she wrote. “Gun violence can happen anytime, anywhere. It’s vital to ensure that each community impacted by gun violence is included in this conversation.”
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT PARKLAND?
“For me,” Kenidra wrote, “the Parkland shooting was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I think what resonated with me the most is all the student engagement across the nation for something so important and can have a major impact on our future.”
Kenidra didn’t just observe the engagement that was occurring across the nation; she was an active participant. She started connecting students to one another. And she continues to help many, like Trinity get their stories out there. “I tweeted that I was the only one to walk out and it got a lot of retweets and I eventually connected to Kenidra Woods,” Trinity told me. “Kenidra was like, ‘we care so much about [gun-safety awareness] let’s create a movement.”
I asked Kenidra what was it about Trinity’s stories and the many others that resonated with her. “First, I want to say Trinity’s courage is absolutely everything,” she replied. “It takes an immense amount of courage to stand up for something alone. It takes a really strong person to continue to stand up, despite the adversity. The other stories I heard touched my heart for many reasons but ultimately because they all came from a place of pain, from experiences of gun violence directly or indirectly but also hope. Hope that we will all make a difference if we all come together and use our voices for change.”
IN THIS FIGHT FOR THE LONG HAUL.
Kenidra recognizing this is a long fight and insists she isn’t going anywhere. “Yes, I absolutely am in this fight for the long haul,” she proclaimed. “I lost my cousin to gun violence. I’m doing this for my cousin and many others who are no longer here to make a difference.”
She realizes that not everyone thinks her generation will stay engaged. “Some adults are counting on us to burn out and stop fighting. I’m gonna prove them wrong. I will ensure that other students stay in this fight by making sure they are aware of bills, especially ones we are not in favor of, that are being passed. I will also make sure that I will attend ongoing community meetings and get as much student involvement as possible. In addition to that, I plan on having events encouraging voter registration, giving students information about their representatives, and ensuring inclusiveness. We have a fire so bright and students coming together uniting only ignites those flames that no one can extinguish.”
For months, Kenidra has been engaging with more and more students from across the country on social media. She has created an interconnected community of active students to enlist, to help fight and to ensure her story and stories like Trinity’s and Frank’s and Cas’s keep getting told.
“Adults are starting to credit us more,” she writes. “Some assumed we were just typical teenagers, and not caring about anything else but our phones, shopping, and mainly ourselves. But I am proud that we proved them wrong.”
And what about the adults who continue to think someone is telling her to speak: “adults you’re wrong, kids get ready.”
MARCH FOR OUR LIVES DC
Thanks to Kenidra Woods, Trinity, Frank, and Cas connected and met in Washington D.C. “I tweeted that I was the only one to walk out and it got a lot of retweets,” Trinity told me. “I eventually connected with Kenidra Woods and she pulled us together, Cas and Frank, and a bunch of other students and she was like, ‘ok we care so much about it so let’s create a movement. Then Twitter got a hold of us and brought us to D.C.”
“When we were in D.C we wanted to make sure we got heard,” Trinity told me. “Cas and I would yell on the streets: ‘we call B.S.’ We made posters and stood in front of the White House, which you saw. We were out there. None of which was planned. You feel it in your heart, and the passion you have behind it when you feel you are taking a chance.”
Trinity told me how inspired she was in D.C. with people who see the world similar to her, “being in that school environment when most of the people are looking down on you, you feel unmotivated. Once I pulled up to D.C., it felt so surreal that it was actually happening. This was my moment to make a change for the rest of the world. I am out here to represent people who are not represented. You certainly feel the vibe, and that inner motivation just comes out. I was so excited and so upset at the same time that this is what it needed to come to but certainly excited to motivate other teens.”
Cas, who was not staying in D.C. for the march due to previous commitments, wanted to make the most of the trip. “I couldn’t stay in D.C. for the March. I wanted to do our own little march, so we marched in front of the White House. It felt emotional. It felt like I was going to move some people like I was doing what they wanted me to do. I was honoring Alaina [Petty, who was murdered in the Parkland massacre] in a sense.”
That night, Trinity, Frank, and Cas met up with Cas’s friend Emma Gonzalez at their Washington D.C. hotel. A casual hang-out with Cas’s friend Emma, inspired both Trinity and Frank. For Trinity, meeting Emma was reassurance that she too could make a difference as Emma has. “You don’t see this leader of the revolution anymore,” Trinity told me. “You see a teenager and how it all started with her and few other individuals. And you feel this is a teenager and she helped start this.”
For Frank, a meeting with Emma and other Stoneman Douglas students helps him spread awareness on his college campus. “Cas passed me on to Emma, and I have been talking to her ever since,” Frank said. “I am also talking to Jaclyn [Corin] every once in a while. There are a couple of MSD Seniors coming to the University of Florida with me, and I have been talking to them and working on advocacy for gun safety and reform here at UF.”
WHAT IS NEXT?
Trinity, who turns 18 in December, will not be able to vote in this next election. However, she said she is “certainly encouraging seniors in [her] high school to vote.” She is hungry though. “I feel as though if we don’t get what we want, we will just be hungrier. That’s the one thing our generation is great at. When we don’t get what we want, we become hungrier. We don’t like to be silenced. We get louder when we are trying to be silenced.”
For Trinity, it is much more than just marching. “After the march, it wasn’t like okay what do we do now?” Trinity explained. “What’s the game plan? We have the next game plan. The next game plan is the Town Hall meetings. It is a movement to motivate. I am going to stay in this to keep motivating teens. Behind this whole movement is motivation to better this world. To better our schools; to better our workforce. Out of this movement, so many organizations have been birthed. So many GoFundMe pages. It just doesn’t automatically stop because we don’t get what we want. We will keep pushing and pushing. The speeches at the march they said we are not going to stop and I believe that one-hundred percent.’
It’s not just gun advocacy issues that Trinity is focused on. Trinity told me, “seeing how much people care and how many people are coming together for this one cause, we can separate and do all these other things. This is just the beginning of an era that will birth a whole other generation of Americans because we aren’t going to take B.S. anymore.”
Frank has started a not-for-profit with Cas and is a founding member of Never Again UF. He told me that Gainesville is a fairly safe community, but he wants to make sure he creates a safe environment for others who have been impacted by gun violence. “A lot of kids in this community probably have been affected [by gun violence] but don’t feel comfortable saying anything.”
He has been speaking with some Stoneman Douglas Students who are having a hard time speaking about the events of February 14th. “There is an emotional scar that comes with it, and they don’t want to re-live it. I think at some point once you say what you have to say, and it’s out there, you can use it as a platform to help people understand what you go through. And people go through the same thing that others have been affected by, and they don’t realize that others need that affirmation that this happened.”
I asked Cas about Cas’s brother: “He is holding up pretty well. He is not one for the interviews. He is not into that. We’re starting up therapy. He’s doing okay. We’re holding up. We’re leaning on each other.”
“We said we were going to be the last,” Cas told me speaking about being the last school shooting. “We didn’t keep that promise. We’re done with kids dying in schools. We went there to learn. We went there to make friends. Not to die. I am a firm believer that kids shouldn’t die in school. Simple as that. Kids are dying. I’m tired of it. I don’t want to die in school. I finally have a reason to live again. Don’t take that away from me.”
In addition to co-founding @WillowsNotWar with Frank, Cas has been sporting a dog tag that Cas hopes catches on. On it lists Cas’s name, Cas’s Senators and Cas’s blood type. “It’s a protest piece,” Cas tells me. “It has yet to get big, but I would like it to be… So if I die in a school shooting my body will be identifiable. If we’re put through similar traumas as soldiers, we might as well have dog tags so they can identify our bodies.”
“I am in it until the day I die because the second that gun went off I was in it,” Cas told me. “It’s because of my trauma that I will continue to be in this fight, and even when I overcome my trauma I will know what it’s like to have this trauma and I will stay in this fight. I am starting a non-profit organization that I hope to keep running for years and maybe even pass down to my children.”