Students at Rufus King High School have had enough.
On Wednesday morning, nearly every black-clad student and staff member at the school walked out of the three-story brick building to support victims of school shootings and protest gun violence.
In a protest planned for weeks since 17 people were killed in a shooting at a Florida high school and in unison with similar demonstrations across the country, more than 1,000 protesters silently left their classrooms at 10 a.m. and walked the track behind the school for 17 minutes. Students held signs sprawled with slogans demanding tighter gun control and political clout for young people. Afterward, they gathered on the football field for a fiery rally.
Students Ruth Fetaw, Morgan Coleman and Nia Mooney recited original spoken-word poetry as students huddled around them.
“We will continue to stand up and make a change because we are the future and we intend to ensure a brighter one,” Fetaw and Coleman shouted in unison into a loudspeaker.
The scene at King played out at schools across Milwaukee in honor of the 14 students and three adults gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. A 19-year-old former student at the school has pleaded not guilty in the killings.
At the King rally, students erupted in periodic applause to the speakers, between whom the crowd chanted slogans such as “Not one more” and “Grades up, guns down.”
The walkout was the culmination of three days of activity related to gun violence. Throughout the week, King students organized presentations on mental health, senior Victoria Carver said, and students who lost loved ones in shootings made and signed a banner calling for an end to gun violence.
King student leaders wanted to go further than the 17-minutes tribute during the protest, so they organized an additional period of silence during the three class periods prior to the walkout.
The students said they, like the students in Parkland, have become energized politically.
“Once we’re all finally 18 and can vote, things are going to change,” said Ella Koutecky. “Why are people saying teachers should have guns when they can barely give the teachers pencils?”
Said 17-year-old Carver: “They (the government) are worried about the wrong things. Half of our textbooks are ripped apart, and we’re one of the best schools in Milwaukee.”
Students also localized the movement by sharing stories of siblings and friends whose lives ended too soon. Asked by a student speaker if anyone wanted to share their experience, senior Awesome Herring stepped forward. “Every time I think of gun violence, I hear Andre Ford,” he said, referring to his brother who was killed in a shooting when Awesome was 4 years old. “I believe if he could, he would walk with us today.”
MPS administration approved the district-wide walkouts, and Superintendent Darienne Driver joined the student protesters at King.
“This was a student-led initiative,” Driver said. “Our students have the right to be educated in a safe environment.”
Student Sierra Rojas said the protest shows what young people are capable of. “I think we can create change and create a future where we can solve things without bloodshed, without weapons and instead with words and peace and love.”