Finding Light in the Darkness: How School in Parkland Florida Honored Victims One Year After Tragic Shooting

Last Thursday, February 14th, I was overindulging in chocolate, people were handing out flowers on my college campus, friends were making cards for each other, and the flood of loving Valentine’s Day posts was taking over everyone’s feed. In Parkland, Florida however, students, faculty, families, and community members were preparing for the one-year anniversary of the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where a gunman opened fire, killing 17 students and faculty members and injuring 17 others.

 

The United States has had a horrific history of gun violence. Between nightclubs, concert venues, movie theaters, violence in the streets, police brutality, school campuses etc. tens of thousands of people every year are murdered by guns. In schools alone, there have been a total of 288 shootings in the last ten years. BBC News named 2018, “the worst year for US school shootings,” resulting in the death or injury of 113 people. While the fight for gun control has been treacherous, the social response after the Parkland shooting has created a wave of hunger throughout the nation to ensure that this never happens again.  

 

In no more than a month after the Parkland shooting, the students of MSD launched the March for Our Lives campaign that swept the streets of every major city in America. Completely student-led, 500,000 people joined in a march on the streets of Washington D.C. on March 24th, 2018, with a total of over one million people nationwide joining in support of a goal for national gun violence awareness and the fight for gun control.

 

A year later, students from MSD and all over the country are continuing their activism in the hopes for major policy change. In the wake of the tragedy, Florida State governor Rick Scott signed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Safety Act” which raised the age to purchase a gun to 21 in the state of Florida. Since then, the Tampa Bay Times reported that a full year after the Parkland shooting, 123 new laws have been passed state by state in hopes to inspire the nation as a whole to respond to the trauma afflicted in America by gun violence of all forms.

 

With all the hard work and tours the survivors are doing with the goal to encourage young voters to register and make a change, this anniversary is a day for communal gathering and grieving.  Last Thursday, the Parkland community prepared themselves for a day to spend together in celebration of the lives that were lost. School districts throughout Florida began the day with a moment of silence at 10:17 am to honor the 17 killed in Parkland. Marjory Stoneman Douglas had a non-academic school day, deeming it a day of “service and love.”  

 

The Broward School District, as well as the Parkland School Board, sponsored a gathering at Pine Trails Park in Parkland, open to the public. People were encouraged to bring canned goods as a donation, but the services offered were meant for anyone and everyone who needed them. Community members were welcomed with open arms; resources such as, service dogs, counselors, and memorial services we also offered. The park hosted volunteer groups from the community, such as “The Hands on Broward,” a student-led volunteer group who shared their, “Parkland Hearts Project” with the community. After having spent a year collecting loving messages from people around the world, the park hosted the groups display of the messages on 17 panels set up as a walkway in the park in honor of those lost.  

 

Students and teachers also spent the day in reflection groups, assembling meal kits for organizations like Feed My Starving Children, and some students and staff from Marjory Stoneman Douglas served breakfast to first responders. MSD student Savannah Azar told CBS Miami, “I think doing this makes us take our minds off of things and helps us give back to the community and all the people who gave to us.”

 

While many people are still grieving and recovering from last year, Florida schools are making a point to honor the ones who were lost in a way that spreads goodness and love throughout the community. Azar told reporters, “today is a day of remembrance of them, their lives, not how they died, but them, like we should remember who they were, not who the killer was.”

 

As more and more acts of gun violence traumatize our youth and our nation, the youth initiative towards stricter gun laws has given hope to many that real change will be made. MSD and its surrounding communities have shown that there is, in fact, a response to the unthinkable and hideous acts of a school shooting; that is love and a whole lot of it. We’ve always known that love is stronger than hate, but this is an example of how love heals brokenness, serves all people of all backgrounds, and can truly change the world for the better.