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Taking a stand against gun violence

New York Teacher
A student at the New York City march makes a point about gun violence.
Miller Photography
A student at the New York City march makes a point about gun violence.

It was not yet dawn on Saturday, March 24, when 38 students at Martin Van Buren HS in Queens Village boarded a bus bound for Washington, D.C. Clad in orange hoodies that read “MVB Stands With MSD,” they were traveling to the nation’s capital with a significant goal: meeting fellow teenagers whose lives had been shaken by gun violence.

“We knew the Parkland students were going to be there, and we really wanted to show solidarity with them and let them know we stand by them,” said Brian Greenspan, the coordinator of student activities at Van Buren.

The Van Buren students were among the estimated 800,000 people who took part in the March for Our Lives in support of stricter gun legislation. The march was organized by survivors of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 people dead. Its sibling marches — an estimated 800 of them around the globe — were coordinated largely by student activists.

A number of New York City high schools sent contingents of students and teachers to the D.C. march, including the Manhattan Center for Science and Mathematics and Susan E. Wagner HS on Staten Island.

“The energy was palpable, and it was a beautiful, positive vibrant energy that I’ll never forget,” said Greenspan. “Students said it was life-changing for them.”

In New York City’s massive march, more than 300 UFT members joined the union’s contingent. Larry Sachs, a teacher at PS 57 in the Bronx, described hearing gunshots from his school’s auditorium and learning about students who had lost loved ones to gun violence. He was especially gratified to witness a student at the march who was celebrating her 18th birthday by registering to vote.

“Students are here for the right reasons. If taking one gun off the street saves your child from being shot, then it’s worth it,” he said.

Karen Saunders (left) and Rytva Soni of the Bronx Collaborative MS hold up signs
Miller Photography
“The UFT has a long history of standing up for social justice, and we’re proud to stand with students today,” said Janella Hinds, the UFT’s vice president for high schools, who led the UFT contingent at the New York City march.

Many teachers had come to protest President Donald Trump’s proposal for licensing teachers to carry weapons in schools.

Rebecca Riley, a teacher at PS 124, Chinatown, held a sign proclaiming “#ArmMeWith School Supplies, Not Guns.” Teachers used the #ArmMeWith hashtag on social media in February to rebut Trump’s proposal and to highlight their genuine needs.

“I feel really proud of the young people who are organizing this,” Riley said. “They’re really brave and they need all the support we can give them. It’s frustrating to feel like there’s nothing you can do except sit around and wait to vote. So it’s a good feeling to be able to go out and participate and do something.”

Many teachers and students left the march feeling galvanized to take further action.

“I’ve never been politically active, but I was anxious to instill in my students a sense of greater responsibility,” said Greenspan. “It’s our responsibility as human beings to do something, to take one step toward combating social injustice. This was an event that’s sparking tangible action on our part. I think it’s time.”

See more photos from the march in the gallery »