WHDC’s Arise!SYEEP Students march to Washington D.C.
March 23, 2018
By Justin Aryiku, Staff – West Harlem Skills Training Center of WHDC
Early Saturday morning on March 24, 2018, forty-one teenagers and chaperones from WHDC’s Arise!SYEEP gathered at the West Harlem Development Corporation (WHDC) office in high anticipation for their trip to Washington D.C, to take part in the national “March for Our Lives” rally against gun violence.
Eager to make their mark in the protest, the students created signs some of which said: “Pass Common Sense Gun Laws Now,” “I Dream of Adding and not Being Subtracted,” and “Teachers Should Carry Chalk, not Guns,” the latter statement, a response in the wake of President Trump’s proposal for teachers carry firearms in the classroom to combat shooters.
The youth also gave their thoughts on the coming march:
“I feel it is important to go and fight for a cause that means something to all of us” (Laura, 16). “I feel good about going to D.C. Change is not possible unless we do something about it” (Zoya, 16). “The shooting that happened in Parkland could have happened in any school. We go today to stand against what’s not right” (Amy, 17). “I came here to support my sister because it’s about protecting her safety and all of our kids. There is no guarantee that it won’t happen again, but now it’s our time to take action” (Briana, 20).
Hours later, the students arrived in Washington D.C alongside a crowd of 837,000 people which included students and others from around the country coming to make a statement about change in response to the pattern of violence in schools and the workplace.
Despite the seriousness of the event, there were smiles on many a face; people were welcoming others with free hugs; asking questions about where the students were from, and how they felt the march would impact the government. The sense of unity was strong. This was clear when you heard protestors comment on how beautiful an outing it was; and when you saw high-fives exchanged at the sight of placards with striking messages, or simply at the presence of groups chanting for change as they marched with the Capitol and the Washington Monument in silent background.
As if on cue, US Senator Kirsten Gillibrand appeared almost out of thin air exclaiming: “I am your Senator!” Her pride was written all over her face, and the cameras clicked away.
On Pennsylvania Avenue, the staging area for the hundreds of thousands of participants, and where the 41-strong WHDC team from Harlem weaved its way to find a vantage spot, the jumbotrons featured singers (Ariana Grande and Lady Gaga) who caught the young marchers’ attention. One speaker was Samantha Fuentes, a survivor of the Parkland shooting, who spoke about what it was like to lose a friend right in front of her, and who ended her speech leading an 837,000-strong empathetic choir to sing Happy Birthday to the one who was lost, Nick Dworet, who would have turned eighteen that Saturday, but for a deranged assassin’s bullet.
Kissairis Moreno, one of the initiators of the Arise!SYEEP march noted how she was struck by the high number of youth who showed up for the Washington DC march saying: “I did not expect this many youth to show up on a Saturday. It was good to see them out to address a problem that they recognize as important and linked to youth nationwide.” As for whether this was enough to cause change, Kissairis was not sure but believe that but it was definitely a start.
Lanice McMillon, a co-initiator, added: “It’s great that people of color and different ages could come together for a good cause, and not just to protest one school shooting, but against all shootings across America. We all have a lot of work to do, including voting.”
Both Kissairis and Lanice appreciate WHDC’s support of the march. WHDC conveyed confidence in youthful responsibility and encouraged initiatives.
The speeches given on Pennsylvania Ave marked an emotional moment during the rally, with tears on many faces, words of sadness and frustration at the thought of these terrible things that were happening, and continuing to happen, but the enthusiasm and strength of the march never wavered. The crowd in DC and all over the country asked for and continue to demand substantive change to ensure safety in schools and everywhere. The students of WHDC’s Arise!SYEEP should be proud that they were part of the first step to making a difference.
WHDC’s Executive Director, Dr. Kofi A. Boateng, accompanied the youth. He ensured that all went well and thanked Ms. Alicia Barksdale, the Arise!SYEEP Coordinator, for a job well done. He hailed the youth for their leadership and poise in speaking to the many interviewers who were attracted by WHDC’s beautiful banner.