Standing with a crowd is easy. Standing alone takes courage.
On March 14, the whole country watched as students across the U.S. walked out of their schools in protest of school shootings and the government’s inaction on gun control.
We watched videos of scores of students filling streets and football fields, carrying protest signs, and standing in solidarity with one another.
But the walkout was not universally embraced. Some kids walked out of their schools and found themselves alone.
Like thousands of students, Justin Blackman of Wilson Preparatory Academy in Wilson, North Carolina, walked out of his Spanish class at 10:00 a.m. on March 14. But he soon discovered that he was the only person out of approximately 700 students at the school to do so.
He shared a video on Twitter, saying, “”It’s National Walkout Day. I’m the only one from my school out here.”
Blackman stood outside the school for 17 minutes — one minute for each of the victims of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting — and then went back inside. He wasn’t sure if he’d be in trouble with his teacher or school administrators, but no one made a fuss. One person even congratulated him.
Twitter, however, went wild over his story, and his video has been retweeted more than 60,000 times.
This Twitter exchange between Blackman and a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the site of the most recent mass school shooting, is particularly inspiring:
I think the kids are going to be alright.
But not all school administrators were supportive of the walkouts. In fact, some actively tried to squash the protests.
Blackman was not the only lone walker to gain the media’s attention. Rosa Rodriguez of Sayreville, New Jersey, didn’t see any other students when she walked outside her high school building. As it turns out, she wasn’t as alone as she thought — a handful of others students protested in other parts of campus.
But unlike Blackman, students at Sayreville were warned of disciplinary action if they left class.
Rodriguez says she was willing to take the risk to protest school gun violence, telling ABC News, “I want to show I care about it, so I want to do something about it.”
According to MyCentralJersey.com, another Sayreville student was told that those who walked out would receive two days of out-of-school suspension, despite the district’s code of conduct only calling for a Saturday detention for leaving campus “without authorization.”
(Just so we’re clear here, the school didn’t want students to leave school for 20 minutes for a highly organized nationwide demonstration, so they are forcing them to leave school for two days. Makes perfect sense.)
Teens weren’t the only young people who participated solo in the National School Walkout.
Leonardo Aguilar is a second grader at Trace Elementary School in San Jose, California. Accompanied by his mom and donning a “Guns Are Cruel, Not Cool” sign he made, Aguilar joined the protest down the street at Lincoln High School on March 14.
He was the only kid from his school to participate in the walkout.
Reporter Len Ramirez shared a photo of Aguilar standing with his sign on Twitter:
When Ramirez asked the 8-year-old about being at the protest, he replied, “I’m protesting for the Florida shooting … I made a poster — as you can see.”
When asked why he felt so strongly, the second grader said, “Because guns are not safe and people get hurt. And teenagers shouldn’t bring guns to school.”
When asked if he feels safe at school, his response was a simple “No.”
Kids are sick of living in fear of gun violence in schools — and in the United States at large.
School shootings affect American kids of all ages, who now spend their childhoods in regular lockdowns and active shooter drills. We live in a surreal era when a second grader has to explain that guns have no place in schools, while legislators talk about handing guns to teachers.
It’s awesome that so many students banded together in their schools and walked out together in solidarity. I’m impressed with the way so many young people are organizing themselves and pressuring lawmakers to get out of their comfy chairs and do something about gun violence.
But these kids? The ones who stood up and walked out without their peers behind or beside them? They give me all the feels. This is what strength looks like. This is what bravery looks like.
The kids are coming, America. And they’re coming armed with courage and conviction, which is a whole lot more powerful than guns.