As an estimated 30,000 people marched against gun violence in downtown Atlanta this weekend, hundreds of other young Georgians opted to take cramped overnight bus rides to Washington to participate in the flagship March for Our Lives rally on Pennsylvania Avenue.
They ranged from college students to middle schoolers and even younger children. Some weren’t strangers to protests and marches. Others were visiting D.C. for the first time and participating in their first-ever political events.
The state chapter of the NAACP brought roughly 85 Georgia college students to the Nation’s Capital for the rally. The group arrived groggy that morning at the headquarters of the AFL-CIO just a block from the White House, where they ate bagel sandwiches and went through a training session with NAACP staff.
One of those students was Kayla Mitchell, a University of West Georgia junior from Johns Creek.
Mitchell plans to apply to law school and run for office one day. She said the recent mass shooting at a Parkland, Fla., high school is “just the tipping point” for Millennials like her when it comes to politics and issues like gun control.
“If the adults aren’t going to do something about it then we’re going to do something about it,” she said. “In the past I feel like we’ve waited on Congress, our president and adults to step in and change the laws but that never happened.”
Also assembled at the AFL-CIO building ahead of the march was a group of metro Atlanta middle schoolers and their parents donning bright orange T-shirts that read “When youth lead we all succeed.”
Unique Clay made the trip from Mableton with her son. She said the rally represented an opportunity for him to be a part of a movement.
“These young people are going to vote. That is their voice,” she said, as the group — exhausted from hours of driving and then standing around — plunked down on the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue to listen to the rally’s speakers.
Jonathan and Tameka Montgomery, 1993 graduates of Morehouse and Spelman colleges, brought their three young sons to the rally for one big reason.
“The exposure to people working together and making a movement to make change…, realizing that they also can have an impact — that they don’t have to sit back and wait for other people,” Jonathan said.
It was the first big rally the couple had taken their children — ages 8, 10, and 11— to.
“It’s about activism and letting them know that they need to be involved,” Tameka said. “Growing up we didn’t go to these sorts of things, our parents didn’t expose us to these sorts of things. It’s really important.”
The issue of gun violence particularly hits home for Cedric Porter, a Morehouse senior from Memphis, Tenn. He said five of his friends died from gun violence in the past year.
“That’s scary. It really shouldn’t be a common thing,” he said. “I’m trying to stop that.”
Porter said he is worried that the recent spate of civic activism against gun violence will fall on “deaf ears.”
“But at one point I do think we’ll have a solution sooner or later and I feel like marching and having legislation is a stepping stone,” he said.
Walking to the rally with Mitchell on Saturday morning was her classmate Keyondra Doston. It was the Cordele native’s first time in Washington.
“Everything happens in D.C.,” she said. “To be here, to be a part of everything, you’ll take that long bus ride to make it here. It’s worth it.”
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