Sense of Purpose
Four Montgomery County teens who are pushing for stricter gun control
Photo by Liz Lynch.
When a French TV crew approached Solomon with the idea of shadowing him at the March for Our Lives, the 16-year-old realized that the lens of attention had widened beyond anything he’d imagined. During the rally in D.C. after the March 14 walkout, as he waited to speak while standing near U.S. Rep. John Lewis of Georgia, a civil rights icon and one of his heroes, Solomon was so nervous that his knee was shaking uncontrollably. A podium provided some cover, but he wondered how he’d deal with a wind that would carry his words away.
“So I yelled at the top of my lungs,” he says. “It turned out better than I thought.”
Two years earlier, while in eighth grade and disturbed by the depressing regularity of mass shootings, Solomon wrote an essay on the importance of gun control. As the events continued to occur, each one sparking a short-lived period of outrage and vows to take legislative action, Solomon says he became “desensitized.” Parkland was a watershed. “I was not only impressed but inspired” by the actions of the Parkland students, he says. “They were the first people able to mobilize in a broad way.”
The son of Ethiopian immigrants—his mother is a nurse and his father is an economist at a federal agency—Solomon was moved by how the new vanguard reached out to students in Chicago, sending a message to communities where gun violence was commonplace. “The fact that they acknowledged that gun violence happens disproportionately in minority communities and that they implemented that view in their planning really helped them succeed,” he says.
Solomon was excited to be included in the group from Montgomery County that was invited to be onstage. “It’s not a matter of the spotlight, who gets to speak,” Solomon says. “The question is whether our message is being heard, and I think Matt delivered our message very well.”
After the March for Our Lives, the students’ driver dropped the teens off at Tinbite’s house. They stood quietly outside, thinking about the day, Solomon says. “None of us had ever been part of something so big.”
Later, Solomon concluded that the almost six weeks between the Parkland shooting and the March for Our Lives were like being in a movie that had no script. “Starting with the walkout and to the day of the march, it was the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life,” he says. “When I met with the Parkland students at Blair, never did I expect that I would become part of this movement, that I was going to be standing side by side with them on a stage, watched by basically the whole world. It felt unreal.”
Solomon, who is the editor-in-chief of Springbrook’s newspaper, The Blueprint, is interested in a career in journalism or law. But his experience in helping to organize the March 14 student walkout and then participating in the March for Our Lives has ignited an interest in politics. “I definitely have a different outlook about what one person, or a group of people, can accomplish,” he says. “To get so many people at the walkout—I wouldn’t have imagined we could do it. The Parkland kids—a small group—started something and it still has momentum.”