One month ago today, a friend sent a somber message into our otherwise silly group chat. There had been a mass shooting at a high school, located only three and a half hours away from where we attended university. Seventeen people, many of them students, had been murdered in a violent and senseless attack.
Today, March 14th, exactly one month after the deadly shooting, my peers at The University of Tampa gathered in our main courtyard as part of the nationwide Walkout, to protest the tragedy. I stood with my friends on ground surrounded by the names of victims of gun violence, going back over twenty years. I listened as my peers spoke of change and reminded us that we are a unique generation that carries the burden of these tragedies more than any other, meaning that we must be the ones to rise up and end this vicious cycle.
Last month, at the time of the incident, my first response was the opposite of admirable. I ignored the tragedy by avoiding news articles and reports, instead allowing myself to be apathetic. I remembered past experiences leading me to believe that getting emotional was a useless affair, as there was nothing I could really do. Pain and injustice are such common occurrences in our nation that at just nineteen, I had become jaded. My generation has forever been marked by tragedies, and at the time, this felt like it was just another one of the many.
The first time I ever protested was at a Black Lives Matter event. For two hours, I walked around my college campus and shouted the names of victims of police brutality. I remember other students walking by and jokingly shouting “Black Lives matter” back at us. I was appalled as I realized some of my peers thought that the idea of Black Lives mattering was a joke; they thought my life was a joke. I realized that for me to cry out “black lives matter” at the top of my lungs was the same as me begging people to believe that my life actually mattered. No human being should ever have to try to convince others that their life matters. Disheartened and discouraged, I slowly began to care less and less about injustices, and I began to believe more and more that trying to make change was genuinely a waste of time. After that, I left the getting angry to my White Liberal Friends™, who I believed still had the strength to get angry because they had only tasted a small drop of this nation’s injustices. I held the same beliefs, but I no longer had the strength to try to make change that wasn’t going to come.
Today, however, I was reminded that change is not a product of the apathetic. It’s easy to avoid tragedy. It’s easy to turn away from injustice and horrors that are more
than we think we can handle, but we can’t be afraid of caring or being passionate, because those are the things that actually lead to the greatest change.
This is a letter to anyone who feels tired of pushing for a change that doesn’t seem to be coming. This article is for the jaded, the apathetic, and the emotionless. In this fight for justice, we may feel discouraged. We may feel as though our cries go unheard and there is no new dawn on the horizon. But we cannot give up. On days when we feel as though we do not have the strength to carry on, we must remember that our nation is only what it is today because of people who refused to accept their current state. Freedom fighters who could not give up even in their darkest hour are what make this nation great, and we as a generation, must continue the work that they started.
Change has already begun. It begins with individuals refusing to go back to the old. What happened at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida doesn’t have to happen again, and change starts with each of us truly allowing ourselves to believe that. This month I plan on taking to the streets once again, this time to March For Our Lives (https://marchforourlives.com) with freedom fighters all over America, and I want to encourage anyone reading this to do the same. I am proud to be a part of a school that believes in change and a part of a generation that fights for change.