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Syracusan Hears Grief, Fear, Resolve & Hope at 'March for Our Lives' in Washington

WAER Contributor Carolina Espinal went to Washington for the March for Our Lives rally. She returned with reactions from parents, educators and former Marjorie Stoneman Douglas School students – some of whom drove more than half-way across the country to be part of the event.

Thousands of demonstrators around the world gathered locally and traveled across states on Saturday, demanding an end to gun violence in The March for Our Lives rally, a student-driven movement ignited after the Feb. 14 massacre in Parkland, Fla., which killed 17.

More than 800 sister marches were held across the country and in Washington D.C., where student leaders of the “mass shooting generation” took the stage to honor the slain and to pledge change.

“Six minutes and about 20 seconds,” said Emma Gonzalez, Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivor, as she began her speech. The time was the duration of the Parkland shooting – a representation of communities united by grief standing together in moments of silence.  She spoke of students barricading themselves and remaining silent during the gunman’s rampage. She added silence engulfed classrooms and hallways before shrieks followed the shots.

Credit Carolina Espinal/WAER News
Sisters Karen Wilkerson and Kathy Kovaly marched in solidarity, calling onto the youth to continue demanding change

Kathy Kovaly and Karen Wilkerson, retired teachers from Maryland and Pennsylvania, fought for equal pay, and protested during the Civil Rights movement and Iraq war. Now, they’re depending on young people to continue the momentum: “carry the torch forward.”

For many parents, the march served as an outlet to empower their children through necessary discussions. Some expressed outrage over daycares having lockdown drills, others over having to talk to their kids about shootings.

“We’re very vague. We just say that grownups are at the door and will try to keep them safe,” said Shellie Rich, a children’s librarian in Indiana. “Every time something terrible happens, I just want to home school my daughter, but she needs to be in the real world.”

Credit Carolina Espinal/WAER News
Yolanda Bettin was at the march with her mother, Tatiana Bettin

Yolanda Bettin, an elementary school student from Richmond, Va., moved to the United States from Brazil. She didn’t understand school drills — why teachers had to lock doors, why students had to remain silent. One day, she went home crying, thinking the drill was real and that a gunman was at school. ... “But she became used to it and that was actually worse,” said her mother, Tatiana Bettin.


The normalcy of lockdowns paired with recurring news of shootings continue to remind many of past traumas and wounds that only time can heal suddenly resurface.

Aileen Labi graduated from Stoneman Douglas in 2000. She was a junior when the Columbine shooting happened. On Feb. 14, the trauma hit closer to home when her brother texted her about the shooting taking place in her alma mater, now the school her nephew attended.

Credit Carolina Espinal/WAER News
Aileen Labi makes connections between Stoneman Douglas and Columbine

“I was shocked and confused… you spend four years experiencing happy memories and sometimes drama, but this shakes your world,” she said.

Labi explained how weird it felt not having to describe to people where Parkland was anymore. That somehow, everyone knew about it – not because of its worthiness, but because it’s been demoted to the site of one of the deadliest school massacres.

Another Stoneman Douglas Student spoke of the impact the shooting had psychologically.

“Before, I never asked myself ‘am I next?’ You see it often in the news. You see the numbers. Then you see your friends and teachers in coffins and you realize you’re not safe,” said Youp van der Linden.

But through defiant messages of hope, the Parkland students captivated the nation’s attention and emboldened a generation of change.


Credit Carolina Espinal/WAER News
Overland High School students came from Colorado to partake in the student-led movement. (Left to right) Tommy Grieve, Zeke Kinnison, Jennifer Aklilu, Morgan Brown, Sophia Guagliardo, Nicci Guagliardo.

Nicci Guagliardo, an English teacher in Aurora, Co., traveled with her students from Overland High School to attend the rally. As an educator, Guagliardo expressed that her hope is to equip her students with knowledge and to empower them, but until recently, students have also embraced that role.

“I’m proud of them,” she said.


It is no longer just about the students at Stoneman, Charles Lambeth, 2017 alumnus of Stoneman Douglas explained. Rather, the movement is representative of the past and future – of everyone who wants change.

“We’ve been grieving and trying to get over it. Now we’re filled with hope,” he said.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.