Colonia High’s student activists continue to protest gun violence

Colonia High School seniors represent Woodbridge Township School District at the #MarchForOurLives last Saturday


Photo Credit: Bryan Barros

Seniors Manuela Martinez, left, and Patrick Coveny, right, represent Colonia High School at Morristown’s #MarchForOurLives

Colonia High School students Manuela Martinez, 17, and Patrick Coveny, 18, joined 13,000 indignant protesters at Morristown, New Jersey’s #MarchForOurLives on Saturday, March 24, representing both the national #NeverAgain movement as well as Woodbridge Township School District.

Since the deaths of 17 high school students and staff in Parkland, Florida at the hands of 19 year old gunman Nikolas Cruz, supporters across the country have joined a national uproar against gun violence. Morristown’s march was just one of the rallies held by gun control advocates nationwide.

Big Numbers

Photo Credit: Bryan Barros
13,000 protesters stand in front of Morristown Town Hall as Mayor Timothy Dougherty gives an inspiring speech.

Some 200,000marchers took to New York City streets. Approximately 800,000 displayed clever posters in Washington, D.C (a larger turnout than last year’s Women’s March). New Jersey’s own Newark citizens organized the state’s official March For Our Lives, as Governor Phil Murphy spoke to thousands.

With more than 800 marches organized around the country, coordinators did not anticipate anything significant for Morristown. The town’s March For Our Lives’ Facebook page reportedly expected just over 1,000 protesters. However, with a turnout of more than 13,000, the march was among the largest in the entire state.

“I didn’t expect this many at all,” Martinez said, “They told us there were about 6,000 people there. Then they said 13,000. It’s really great to see so many people wanting to participate in such an important movement.”

What Went Down

Proud protesters were first greeted by Mayor Timothy Dougherty, who highlighted the nation’s need for reform and emphasized that it begins with towns like Morristown.

Photo Credit: Bryan Barros
Behind a cleverly worded poster, “Everytown for Gun Safety”, Morristown’s Mayor, Timothy Dougherty, addresses a crowd of 13,000 protesters

Dougherty declared, “Enough is enough. And let that echo in every town and every city and every state in these United States of America. So keep it up, I will stand with you, I will walk with you.” Among the small crowd of speakers on the steps of the Town Hall were student activists Bella Bhimani, Danilo Lopez, Nile Birch and Luna Aguilar. Joining them was Congress minority whip, Steny Hoyer.

Following the Mayor’s moving address, Bhimani spoke passionately of her experiences with gun violence. Alluding to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, she recalled being “11 years old and powerless.”

After the brief, emotional introduction from Dougherty and Bhimani, the walk finally began at around 11:30 AM.

An estimated 6,000 marchers led the way down South Street, around South Park Place, Dumont Place and Pine Street, and finally back up to Town Hall. Upon returning to South Street, Coveny and Martinez noticed the other 7,000 protesters flooding in.

Photo Credit: Bryan Barros
Out of 13,000 at Morristown’s March For Our Lives, one poster questioned, “Guns or our children? Why is this even a [question]?”

“I was shocked,” Coveny said, “But it’s so refreshing to see so many people getting together for something like this. We’re not stopping until we see change. I think we’re making that pretty clear.”

After the conclusion of the walk, other speakers took to the podium. Lopez, a junior at Dover High School, listed all 17 victims of the Parkland shooting. He proceeded to ask for a moment of silence. Morristown froze completely.

Speaking Out

“I was extremely ecstatic,” he said about this emotional moment, “[It] made me feel like what we were doing really meant a great deal for a lot of people, and to be a part of leading it was an honor.” Lopez continues his activism as a member of Dover High’s Student Executive Committee.

Later, Birch and Aguilar made their own speeches. Both Morristown High School students emphasized the importance of gun control in minority communities.

Photo Credit: Bryan Barros
One woman wore a sticker declaring “Facts Matter” in bright blue and red letters.

Sophomore Aguilar, avid member of Morristown High’s Melanin Minds and Latinos United in North America (LUNA), acknowledged, “The movement should be credited to the Black Lives Matter movement. They have been speaking out against gun violence, especially with unarmed POC [people of color] and police. POC are greater targets when it comes to violence and we cannot let this movement exclude them.”

She continued to declare, “Being a Latina woman, I understand the fears my people face. I want to use my platform to make sure all marginalized groups are represented and are being heard.”

Senior Birch, also a member of Melanin Minds, addressed the audience with a similar approach, instead from the perspective of an African American adolescent. With small hints at marginalization and police brutality throughout his speech, he proved relatable to POC in the crowd.

Photo Credit: Bryan Barros
Colonia High School’s own students carry a poster cunningly stating, “We are young. We are here. We are bulletproof.”

Still, Birch remains hopeful for the future of his community, “This issue is even more controversial than the ‘guns in schools’ movement because it incorporates topics like inherent bias and racism. However, hopefully enough change can come where police forces are more diverse in a multitude of ways.”

Non-stop Activism

March 24, 2018, may have been a date to remember, but Morristown’s student organizers are not done yet.

According to Bhimani, she will be “meeting with several other student (including 2 Parkland students) to discuss what’s next” this coming weekend.

Aguilar also plans to utilize her public speaking skills again at a coming board meeting at Morristown High School on April 19. “They are trying to implement more police officers into the schools and I will be speaking there against the proposed idea. There will be other events in the future,” she assured.

Standing before Mayor Timothy Dougherty and other speakers at the event, one woman holds up a sign insisting, “One child is worth more than all the guns on earth.”

On the other hand, Birch seeks to create an impact in the long run. “I will most definitely be continuing the effort to catalyze change. I’m so proud of the efforts [of] my school club Melanin Minds (led this year by president Bella Simon) to create change within the community. While I see this as my lasting legacy at my high school, I look forward to sparking new conversations and working to make an impact on topics that need to be spoken about.”

In the end, Martinez and Coveny were impressed by Morristown’s vigor and integrity. “It would be nice to see Colonia do something like this, to really show solidarity with the gun control advocates,” said Martinez.

Colonia High School’s own Student Led Action Committee is planning for the future of the Never Again movement. Members Vahini Shori and Sarah Gregory are gathering students in anticipation of the Columbine High School Massacre’s 18th anniversary. In hopes of continuing Colonia’s momentum from March 14th’s Walk Out, students are meeting several times a week to plan for the date.