The local students who led 2,500 of their peers to rally in D.C. last week are now set to appear onstage before hundreds of thousands at this weekend’s March For Our Lives on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District.
March organizers have asked Matt Post, the student member of the Montgomery County school board, to deliver a speech at the event, which could draw a crowd of 500,000. Post will be accompanied onstage by fellow Montgomery County Public Schools students Brenna Levitan, Nate Tinbite and Michael Solomon, leaders of the local youth movement urging action on gun control.
“I think we’re all fighting for those who can’t anymore,” said Levitan, a senior at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.
All four students captured national attention last week as they stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill and spoke to the sea of teens who had gathered there. A wall of television cameras faced the students as they spoke, broadcasting their words to millions. A clip of Solomon’s impassioned speech, tweeted by CBS News, was viewed more than 439,000 times.
“I was incredibly scared,” Solomon, a sophomore from Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, said. “I thought to myself, if I speak at a normal tone, my voice is probably going to get shaky. So why don’t I just yell? … And I guess it worked.”
The four students said they were stirred to action by the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida and by the boldness of the survivors who are now calling for gun law reform. But they also said issues of school safety and gun violence have long been on their minds.
Levitan, who helped found MoCo Students for Gun Control last month, said she knows teens who have immigrated to the U.S. to escape gun violence and gang activity. America hasn't exactly been the safe haven they were seeking, she said.
During the rally last week, Tinbite, a sophomore at John F. Kennedy High School in Silver Spring, spoke about his parents, who came to the United States from Ethiopia. They didn't always have enough paper and pencils at their schools in Africa, but unlike their son, they never had to worry about a shooting rampage, he said.
"That is an American tragedy," he told the crowd last week. "They never had to think about getting shot at any moment. That is an American thought. And they never had to worry that their child would be the victim of a mass shooting. That is an American worry."
Post, a senior at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring, was among the first to speak last week, denouncing federal lawmakers for failing to protect the nation's young people.
"The adults have failed us. This is in our hands now, and if any elected official gets in our way, we will vote them out," he said during the speech.
Post's remarks went viral online (an NBC News clip posted on Twitter was shared nearly 36,000 times and viewed more than 2.2 million times), and he said the president of the March For Our Lives contacted him and asked him to speak at the rally this weekend.
Levitan said she's been in touch with a couple of student organizers from Parkland since the rally, and she's looking forward to marching with them this weekend. Since the rally, Tinbite said that he's watched the footage of his speech and was excited to notice House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had been cheering him on while he spoke. He said his parents were proud when they saw what their son had done.
"They were just proud that I spoke my voice, the voice that they gave me," he said.
Solomon said it was strange to see his own picture on his Twitter timeline and watch his speech on the news after the rally.
"Going to school the next day was also weird, because all my teachers wanted to play my speech during class. So I had to kind of sit there and watch myself on the Promethean board," he said.
Solomon hopes that with so much media coverage of the march, even the lawmakers who stayed inside the Capitol building were aware of the students on their lawn.
"I guess it's safe to assume even those lawmakers in Congress who have been complacent on gun control and gun violence … they saw us," Solomon said.
But the recent attention toward the students hasn't been all positive.
Levitan said some other students at Blair and Twitter users have told her that her activism is making her a target. Post said he's also seen ugly comments surface on social media.
But the students said they're not giving up. Even after this weekend's march, they plan to continue their advocacy efforts.
On Tuesday, students learned of another school shooting, this time just a couple hours away, in St. Mary's County. Levitan said the same thing could happen at Blair or any other school in Montgomery County, so she's determined to stay focused on the fight for gun control legislation.
The students' group now has chapters across MCPS, and they will keep pressing federal and state lawmakers and trying to galvanize young people around the D.C. area, Levitan said.
"We want the students' voices to be heard," she said.
Bethany Rodgers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org