The Annual End of School Rally and Peace March presented by Saint Sabina Church June 15 got a lift this year with the attendance of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of Parkland, Floridathe school which saw the murder of 17 students and teachers on Valentine's Day this year.
Grammy winners Chance the Rapper, Jennifer Hudson and Will.I.Am, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, and former Illinois Gov. Patrick Quinn were among the speakers joined my many youth activists from Parkland and Chicago.
The rally and subsequent march were aimed directly at spotlighting the need for "common sense" gun laws and legislation, the need for social services in impoverished urban areas, and the importance of the youth of America registering to vote in the November midterm elections. The event took place at Saint Sabina Church located at 1710 W. 78th Place. The following day, Chicago and Parkland youth joined together for breakfast and socializing, followed by a voter registration event for the public.
Hours before the official start of the June 15 rally there was plenty of activism, by high school students and parents alike, on display. Adorning the fence surrounding the church were bright scarves representing more than 100 high school victims of gun violence since the Sandy Hook massacre in December of 2012. On the northwest corner of 78th Place sat an art installation designed by Nik Berg Ono and presented by The Escape Pod Agency titled The Metro Gun Share Program which featured assault rifles in vending fences. As students and parents wrote the names of students, friends and other victims of gun violence on the surrounding sidewalk with chalk, Manuel Oliver, whose son Joaquin died at the Parkland attack, created a mural with images of his son, a grinning Donald Trump, and a number of high school graduation caps stenciled on it.
The rally got off to a thunderous start with a performance by the Selah Youth Choir followed by a multitude of words from Chicago-area students and student activists. Chicago student Diego Garcia said, "We are the Rosa Parks of the 21st century." Student activist Maria Hernandez spoke out against the controversial new $95 million police academy which is planned in Chicago: "The same lynchings that we were fighting against a hundred years ago we are fighting against today. You think we're goofy because we're young but we are taking over … this violence has got to stop."
Activist Juan Reyes spoke about the need to vote but to also do the research on each candidate. He said, "It's not good enough to vote for a candidate because they have a 'D' next to their name."
Later in the presentation, Gifford, who had been shot in the head during a gun attack in 201, said, "These are scary times, it's time for us to stand for what's right." Gifford urged parents and adults to protect our students, and let them lead the way.
St . Sabina's Father Michael Pfleger, who has a reputation for being outspoken, said, "Something is happening in this nation, young people are rising up and taking over. I love your impatience and passion … usually grownups say, 'it takes time, it takes persistence.' You are saying 'I WANT IT NOW.'" Pfleger also said, "To hell with political correctness … either support our young people or get out of the way … . The N.R.A. is over … these young people will out live you."
Pfleger and other speakers commented on the death of She'Nyah O'Flynn, 12, from Michigan who was visiting her father for the summer and was fatally shot in Garfield Park the night before the rally.
Producer Will.I.Am performed a new song, followed by Jennifer Hudson who had lost her mother, brother and nephew to gun violence in 2008. She spoke briefly then, at the insistence of Father Pfleger, led the audience in a rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Chance the Rapper then came out to wild applause which he shushed, and said, "It's so important for us to link up and talk about the stuff that's going on here. Everyone on this stage is anti-gun violence, from people in our community to people policing our communities."
After the rally, Pfleger led participants in the rally, the Parkland students, and everyone in attendance on a peace march down 78th st. to 83rd st. then down to south Halsted back to the rally's start.
For the Parkland students this was the first of more than 75 stops on the nationwide "March for Our Lives; Road to Change Tour" which is designed to push the issue of gun control and violence to national attention in the wake of the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. See www.marchforourlives.com/tour/ .