The world is crying. As I am sitting on my comfortable bed tapping on keys to form these sentences, four people will no longer be able to do the same. Four people died today, April 22nd, in a Tennessee Waffle House. Four people will no longer get to return home to their families. Four people will never get to finish their breakfast. Four people will no longer get to live out the lives they thought they were made for.
This is why we march. This is why we walk out. This is why we demand change. Not just for students, not just for teenagers, but for all inhabitants of the place we call our home. The place people come to live out their dreams. America.
My name is Ariel Feldman, and I am the founder of the FTLwalkout. The journey to the day of April 20th was a long and hard one. A journey that did not start just days before, not months, not even years. This journey started before I was even born. On April 20th, 1999, two students made their way into Columbine High School and proceeded to shoot as many people as they could, killing 13 and injuring countless others. This event shook the nation. But it did not change it. Since Columbine there have been over 193 school shootings in the United States. I am 17 years old, and if you divide it up equally, there have been over 11 school shootings every year that I’ve been alive. At least one shooting for almost every month I’ve been on this planet. This is unacceptable. This is all I have ever known. But this will not be all I will ever know. My generation has unfortunately been named as “The school shooting generation” and we do not accept that title. We will not sit idly by as we wait for things to change. This is the reason we are raising our voices and speaking out. This is the reason we want change. We want change so that we don’t have to be afraid when we walk in to school each morning. So we don’t have to think about the quickest exit points in the case that someone comes into an assembly with a gun. So we don’t have to hold our friends from Douglas while they sob over their lost classmates, over their dead friends, over their never ending panic attacks, over their PTSD that is now equivalent to that of a soldier returning home from war.
Children should not be thinking about these things. We should be too young to experience these things. Everyone in the country should be too young to experience these things because “these things” these shootings should never have happened in the first place.
But, as I say that we should be too young to experience these things. We have. Firsthand. But we are not too young to do something about it.
This is why I founded the FTLwalkout under the wings of the National School Walkout.
Our plan was to join a couple hundred students from schools in the Fort Lauderdale area and march from the War Memorial at Holiday park to Fort Lauderdale City Hall.
That was our plan.
Things slowly spiraled down at our school as our initial support was dwindling. We started to get a multitude of hate from strangers on the internet, people passing in the street as we handed out flyers and even from our own friends and classmates. I did not expect a Christian school to breed students with such negativity, and I certainly did not expect hundreds to lash out at us just for using our voices. Among the mean comments and rude names I was personally called, some favorites of mine were “retard” “a joke” “fake” “brainless” and the best one of all “I hope you get raped.”
Now please don’t believe that when I say “favorites” that it means I like and approve of these words. When I say that these few comments out of the masses of hate I received were my favorite, I mean that these were some of the best and some of the worst. I received many more comments and messages containing even more vile things that I will leave out for the sake of you, the reader. But I included these few as a testament to the fact that we are not the lazy teens who can’t do anything and who get offended at everything. I worked as hard as I possibly could to make this dream come to fruition. I worked through all the barriers, through all the hate, through all the non-support, through it all to make this event happen.
We expected to bring a whole busload of students. What we really brought was eight. People decided not to come at the last minute because they didn’t want to miss class, because they didn’t want to get in trouble with administration, because of the immense hate we were getting, because of many things that could’ve been solved.
We arrived that morning with our small crowd of eight to see City Hall and the Fort Lauderdale Police Department prepared for a crowd of about 200. We were embarrassed and disappointed, but even so, we kept our heads held high and spoke to the Mayor Dean Trantalis of Fort Lauderdale and the news cameras that came to cover our event. The eight of us presented our speeches and acted as though we were speaking to the masses. As we finished, I asked if anyone had any questions they would like to ask me or any of the other speakers, and we started to pack up to leave. At that moment, we were feeling better and more energized but still not superb since our event was significantly smaller and shorter than we expected.
Until someone ran back up to the courtyard and said, “Hey guys, there’s a group of people marching this way!!!” I didn’t want to get my hopes up. I expected to walk down and see a group of two, maybe three people walking towards City Hall. What I really saw was a group of over 30 students being escorted by the police marching towards us and chanting. I screamed. We all screamed. A few of us cried. We were elated. They met us up at the courtyard and we all chanted in unison for what felt like a happy eternity. We were all smiling, laughing, hugging, chanting. I was so happy to see these people I didn’t even know. I didn’t even know where they came from. I would later find out that they were a group of over 30 students from Fort Lauderdale High School who made the longer than 40 minute walk just to join us at City Hall. We then decided to start our event up again. We gathered around the podium, called back the cameras and had an open mic time where we shared our speeches once again to the crowd, and they shared some of theirs. We talked, we shared stories and social media accounts, and we discussed future plans going forward. There are things in the works, and I am so excited to see what our generation does. If you would like to stay updated, or if you would like to see videos, pictures and speeches from our event, please follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook @FTLwalkout or email us at [email protected] to find out how you can get involved in our upcoming plans.
Ariel is 17 years old and a senior at Calvary Christian academy.