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A walk in the park

Students protest gun violence starting in advisory and ending at Yucca Park

Students gathered at Yucca Park to protest gun violence

Students gathered at Yucca Park to protest gun violence

Kundai Nyamandi

Kundai Nyamandi

Students gathered at Yucca Park to protest gun violence

Nadine Said and Sona Shaik

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The sun peeked through holes in a blanket of clouds, a light breeze ruffled sophomore Lulia Pan’s brown hair. She walked from her house to Heritage, a leisurely 15 minutes filled with thoughts about work due that she hadn’t prepared for while listening to her K-Pop playlist.

Sophomore Ethan Phillips awoke at 6:45 a.m., and like most high school students, feeling the weight of both reluctance and responsibility of a Friday spent in class, pulled himself from bed and into a bright red hoodie, brushing back his wavy blonde hair before leaving home.

Senior Austin Sandifer grudgingly woke up to the sound of his phone buzzing and saw a text message from his friend that said she’d be participating with the others. He respected her choice but did not approve of it. He slipped into an American Eagle tee, jeans and black sneakers and drove to school.

Senior Ryan Short didn’t get much sleep the night before. Going through a morning routine, Short noticed their heartbeat was a little faster. The seventeen-year-old’s hands trembled a little more and felt a little more energetic than usual.

Before the sun rose, senior Oishika Das woke up and grabbed her phone to check the CNN news page on her phone. Blinded by her the bright screen, she rubbed her eyes and crawled out of bed. Grabbing an orange t-shirt and a pair comfy blue jeans, she thought about how today, she —along with about 200 Heritage students—would walk out against gun violence.

Das and Short along with about 200 Heritage students walked out alongside students from 2,500 schools nationwide, a solemn day that marked the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting.

9:00 a.m.

The school bell rang and class began as always. Pan strolled into her TV Broadcast 1 class and casually sat in her seat. She rested her face on her hands and closed her eyes. Her eyes fluttered as she heard her computer turn on. She slowly but surely began to work on her project.

Phillips reluctantly walked into AP World History and as he looked up, his eyes were met with a 1-hour timer on the board. His mind transcended into a state of panic. He was about to take a mock exam.

Meanwhile, Sandifer was in his AP Euro class at Independence High School and was working on a video project. Despite being busy, he could not help but think about whether people would criticize each other over their positions on the walkout.

Das was busy at a doctor’s appointment.

Short was taking an AP Economics quiz, but their mind was preoccupied with last-minute concerns about the walkout. Reading through texts and updates about the walkout across the country at other schools, a news alert about a school shooting popped up. In Ocala, Florida, a 17-year-old was shot in the ankle while he was participating in the national protest against gun violence.

10:30 a.m..

Students flocked toward the door. Within seconds, students filled the empty hallways to meet their friends, go to the bathroom and get to class. Pan walked into chemistry and sank into her seat, utterly confused. Her head spun as the teacher wrote a never-ending list of chemical equations.

Phillips was in Spanish 3 listening and staring at the board thoughtlessly while his teacher explained the tasks and assignments that were to be completed that day. Sandifer and Das walked through the front doors of Heritage. Sandifer went to his AP Computer Science, feeling confident, finishing two programming assignments. Das nervously rushed to her AP Physics C class, as she had a test over Magnetism and Ampere’s Law, and she didn’t want to miss a single minute.

Short was also in AP Computer Science working on programs but their thoughts were someplace else. Short took a few minutes to meditate to calm their nerves. The clock inched toward 12:05. There was no time to panic.

12:05 a.m.

The time finally came. Class was over and within seconds, students filled the empty hallways to meet their friends, go to the bathroom and get to class, but some students took a detour path and headed to the main gym. Pan made her way to activity period to finish her TV Broadcast project. Phillips rushed to his advisory class to manage his ever-growing stack of assignments and Sandifer was busy listening to music and reading the latest news headlines on his phone.

Meanwhile, Short bolted from their AP Computer Science to the main gym and Das quickly finished her test and entered the gym along with her friend senior Jennifer Morse. Within two minutes the gym was flooded with students who wanted their voices to be heard. Seconds prior to the influx of young activists, the gym had been empty, silent and lifeless. Seniors Coleen Solis, Darren Dobson and Lillian Vukin walked in holding posters that read “Am I Next?” with somber looks on their faces. Looking to register to vote, a line of students formed across the gym.

Handmade neon orange ribbons dotted the clothes of students, peppering the space like tiny stars. Principal Mark Mimms stood in the far corner of the gym, arms crossed with a stern and watchful look on his face. His eyes shifted from one corner of the gym to another, always on the lookout. School Resource Officer Jeremy Petty paced on the opposite side of the gym, arms crossed in front of his chest, asking students to leave their bags outside of the gym. Short and the other walkout organizers made their way to the middle of the bleachers as people began to gather around them.

“Today we’re going to demand change,” Short said. “ This issue will not escape us.”

People listened intently as the students made their speeches, holding onto every single word. Their gazes were either glued to the speakers or to the ground. Some people’s eyes welled up with tears while the faces of others became flushed, but no one uttered a word in the gym usually filled with raucous games and cheering crowds. The protesters held a moment of silence for 47 seconds representing the 47 children that suffer a bullet wound every day. Short asked the crowd to think of all the lives lost and affected. The 47 seconds seemed to stretch on forever and sorrowful thoughts depressed all sound.

Concluding their speech, Short stepped aside, allowing junior Joseph Ingram to speak.

“Our government may not have woken up, but we have,” Ingram said. “You do not have to be a Republican or a Democrat to understand that this is a common sense issue. This is not a red and blue issue. This is a red, white and blue issue.”

Junior Kundai Nyamandi spoke next. “Today is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and not much has changed,” she said. “If the laws weren’t going to change when students died, what is going to make them change?”

Lastly, freshman Anoo Mallepalli made her way to the center to deliver her speech. Her legs and hands trembled as she spoke but she continued to speak with tenacity.

“I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired, I’m tired,” Mallepalli said. “I think I’ve been tired since February 14, 2018. “Instead of learning cursive, we learned how to run in zigzags in case somebody with a gun was chasing us, or that our silence, huddled into the back corner of a classroom, could save our lives.”

12:35 a.m.

Time was up. Mallepalli’s speech was cut short by Mimms. “Time to go back to class,” he said.

“You can go back to class, and you have no punishment, but you always have a choice,” Short said as students headed back to their third period class or A lunch. The remaining students walked out of the glass doors near the auditorium. Clusters of students formed a line that snaked out of the building.

Mimms and police officers followed the group to warn them of a possible threat nearby. According to a tweet from The Dallas Morning News, three legally armed men were at the park adjacent to Heritage, and the students decided to avoid them by moving their protest.

While about 100 students walked out, more than 90 percent of the student body went to their classes as if it was an average Friday. Those participating joined with other students from Independence High School and ended their protest at Yucca Ridge Park behind Independence at about 4:30 p.m.

What started off as an ordinary Friday with students looking forward to the weekend, ended with students protesting at Yucca Park. They exchanged stories. They cried. They smiled. They listened. Later that day, the glistening sun abandoned its post in the sky, leaving orange, yellow, and pink ribbons of fading light behind it as it does every night.

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