The country is seeing a new generation of gun control protesters rising from schools in the wake of a Florida massacre. Local students are part of this wave, too. Their motivations vary from personal experience to political commitment, but they say they are just starting their advocacy efforts.
Those three local students led some of the thousands of students at local schools who participated in a nationwide walkout March 14. The walkout was held a month after 17 people were killed in the Parkland, Fla., school shooting. They said they weren’t able to participate in the marches that followed in downtown Atlanta and Washington, D.C.
Tali Feen, Atlanta Jewish Academy
Tali Feen, a sophomore at Atlanta Jewish Academy in Sandy Springs, said taking a stand against gun violence wasn’t unusual for her.
“I’ve always taken a stand or tried to do something to make a difference,” she said.
Feen said one of her main interests is volunteering activism.
“I’ve always been into social action. Volunteering is something I love,” Feen said.
She currently volunteers frequently with Creating Connected Communities, an organization that plans fun activities for students in poverty. During the summers, she helps with a summer school type program called Odyssey Atlanta, which works to motivate students in poverty to help them have successful careers later in life.
She previously helped organize fundraising drives at her school for victims of the hurricanes that hit several countries last year, she said.
She said she is inspired by her brother, who works in politics in Washington, D.C. But she sees herself staying on the activism side rather than venturing into a political career.
She plans to major in science in the hopes of pursuing a medical career. She hopes to one day volunteer performing medical services in a poor country.
Students who led AJA’s demonstration said they focused on remembering the victims so they wouldn’t alienate students who do not support additional gun control measures, but they still talked about the issue, said Aden Dori, a sophomore at the school.
“Where common ground lies is at the victims,” said Dori, who helped organize the protest.
Feen, Dori and Ben Ogden, a senior who helped lead the demonstration, are working on organizing a campaign to write letters to students’ senators and representatives in Congress. They hope to keep people aware and interested in the movement and not forget about it, Dori said.
“The march was the first step in our long journey of making change,” Feen said.
Parker Short, Dunwoody High School
Volunteering with several political campaigns led Parker Short, a sophomore at Dunwoody High, to lead his school’s protest.
Last year’s special election for the local 6th Congressional District seat spurred Short’s interest in politics. He worked as an intern for Democrat Jon Ossoff’s campaign. Ossoff lost to Republican Karen Handel in a runoff election.
“I have been politically involved for a little over a year now, and was inspired to get involved because of the need for change in our political system,” Short said.
Short also founded and presides over the Young Democrats Club at Dunwoody High and has helped bring high-profile politicians to speak, including former Gov. Roy Barnes and former state Sen. Jason Carter. He is now volunteering as the youth outreach director of Michael Wilensky’s campaign for state House.
“I am very passionate about a plethora of issues facing our country including socialized medicine, gun control, DACA and campaign finance reform,” he said.
Short hopes to attend Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. to study political science. His other hobbies include hiking, reading and playing piano.
Adenike Makinde, North Atlanta High School
At North Atlanta High School in Buckhead, senior Adenike Makinde had a personal reason to join the protest. Makinde, who plans to attend the University of Southern California, wasn’t involved with gun control efforts or politics before the Florida shooting. She said she felt a personal connection to that incident because her estranged brother was at the Parkland school during the shooting, but was not injured.
“This could have been a completely different story for me,” if her brother was injured or killed, she said.
She said that the protest helped show adults that students are committed to trying to spur change.
“To see so much action by young people is really eye-opening for a lot of adults,” she said.
Makinde said she participated in and helped lead the walkout “to stand in solidarity and to respect the lives of the people that were killed.”
The Student Government Association led the protest at North Atlanta, and the president asked Makinde to read the names of the victims at the walkout, she said.
The protesters tried to make the walkout not about politics, but instead about having a conversation around gun control, which isn’t being had in a meaningful way by politicians, Makinde said.
“There’s no conversation being had, and I think that’s what the students want,” she said.