Sense of Purpose | Page 3 of 5

Sense of Purpose

Four Montgomery County teens who are pushing for stricter gun control

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Photo by Liz Lynch.

Nate Tinbite


Weeks before he turned 16 in May, Nate Tinbite was elected president of the Montgomery County Regional Student Government Association. Even he was amazed—not because he won, but as he notes, “When I first started in student government, I could barely get up and say my name. I used to get nervous and shake; my vocabulary wasn’t very developed.”

Tinbite says he began to gain confidence when he was elected treasurer of the association in 2017, and participating in the March 14 walkout and rally has helped him realize how much he can achieve. “The biggest thing for me now is to use my voice,” he says. “I’ve learned so much: how to canvass, how to speak to people, how to get out there and not be afraid of the podium, you know? Kill the stage. The first thing I say when I walk out there is, ‘If not me, then who?’ ”

Tinbite says the March 14 rally at the White House and later at the Capitol was a kind of breakthrough for him. He’d been working with the MoCo Students for Gun Control behind the scenes, but now he was out in public, all eyes on him. “Just watching all those legislators walk out of the Capitol is what inspired me,” he says. “And seeing my peers from other schools hop on the Metro. And under- standing this was the right thing to do.”

Tinbite’s parents grew up in Ethiopia, and moved to the United States 25 years ago. Despite ethnic strife in their homeland, his parents and other family members who later settled elsewhere in the world never feared for their lives there, Tinbite says. “It’s not about statistics, it’s how they felt in their community,” he says. “It’s just a universal feeling of my family outside the U.S. that safety was not a problem for them.”

For his March 14 speech, Tinbite looked for guidance from his math teacher, Brian Schutt, who describes the teen as a hard worker who is passionate about trying to have a positive impact on county schools and his community. “Nate is … an amazing orator for someone his age,” Schutt says. “I truly believe that Nate is going to do amazing things in our community now and in the future.”

On the day of the walkout and rally, his parents—his father is a car salesman and his mother works for the U.S. Department of Transportation—were worried about his safety. His phone repeatedly buzzed with their text messages asking if everything was OK. “The people out there, you just don’t know,” they told their son. “I understood,” Tinbite says. “Being in a big crowd was terrifying.”

Still, he spoke to those who had gathered, recounting how his parents suffered economic hardships in Ethiopia, but didn’t experience a crippling fear of mass shootings. “They never had to think about getting shot at any moment. That is an American thought,” Tinbite told the crowd. “And they never had to worry that their child would be the victim of a mass shooting. That is an American worry.”

And that notion is his contribution to the gun control movement—that millions of people living in countries without the political and economic stability of the U.S. aren’t worrying daily about gun violence. “That’s why I’m taking part in this movement,” he says. “Not just to tell my story, but to make sure my peers never have these thoughts. We just have to shame our national legislators into passing stricter gun controls.”

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