BY RYAN KELLEY AND SUZANNE MONTEVERDI
Students at two high schools in Bayside were among thousands who marched out of their classrooms Wednesday morning in an act of solidarity against gun violence.
The #Enough! National School Walkout took place on March 14, exactly one month after the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Feb. 14. The event was scheduled to last 17 minutes, in remembrance of the number of victims killed in the massacre. Students participated across the country to demand Congress enact gun reform.
At Benjamin N. Cardozo High School, thousands of students spilled out onto 223rd Street where traffic was blocked off by police in front of the school. The crowd filled the length of the block as Mackenzie Mattone, an 11th-grade student who organized the walkout, yelled into a megaphone to rally her classmates.
“I cannot imagine the moment where I witness my own best friends being killed before me, knowing there is nothing I can do,” Mattone said. “But what if there is something we can all do? We can make our voices heard. We can make a difference. We can force legislators to listen to the demands of students who want to live another day. We can register to vote. We may just be teenagers now, but we are the future, and with unity and determination, change will come.”
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz stood by Mattone’s side atop the steps overlooking the student body, and she expressed her pride in the young people of Queens while advocating for meaningful gun legislation.
“Take a second, look around you,” Katz said to the crowd. “This is happening all over the United States of America where the kids, the students, are telling the adults in Washington to get it together and pass gun control. We shouldn’t have to be out here protesting.”
With nearly 4,000 total students at Cardozo, Mattone said that nobody was told they had to participate in the walkout, but she believed almost the entire school chose to. Picket signs were scattered throughout the mass and chants of “We want change” rang out in waves.
Joli Amour, an 11th-grade student, said that she was thankful that Mattone organized the protest because it shows how much the culture surrounding these issues has changed.
“None of us want to be next, especially if they don’t do anything to regulate gun control, and it’s an inevitability that there’s going to be a next school,” Amour said. “It definitely feels great that someone was able to put this into effect because it doesn’t feel like years ago that this would have even happened.”
Tenth-grade student Alex Zavala added that he’s experienced various threats at Cardozo before, and he wonders why it has become such a problem in America.
“At times I feel lucky that it wasn’t me, but at other times I feel really horrible because it shouldn’t be happening anywhere,” Zavala said. “You only see it here, and you only hear about it in the United States.”
Gina Schroeter, a longtime Bayside resident, waited outside of the main entrance to Bayside High School in anticipation of the walkout.
“Here they come,” she said, as the first students were seen emerging from the doors at 10 a.m.
“We haven’t been able to get our generation — and the generation of my children — to put gun laws in place to protect us. So this generation is going to do it,” Schroeter said. “And I wanted to support them in that … The [legislators] need to be convinced that this is in not only the best interest of our country, which is obvious, but in their best interest, as well. That requires a groundswell of people to say, ‘No more. This has got to change now.’”
Hundreds of students poured out of the building on 32nd Avenue and Corporal Kennedy Street and onto the sidewalk. Many held handmade signs with different sayings, including “g(un)safe,” “Enough is Enough” and “Never Again.”
“A lot of things have been happening recently, especially in this generation: a lot of school shootings, a lot of terrorist attacks,” said Flora Pierre, a 16-year-old student. “And honestly, this isn’t the place I want to grow up in. We have to be the people to make a change because other people aren’t doing anything about it … These issues have been around for a while and they’re only getting worse. I don’t want to have to be in my 20s or 30s and raise my kids in this kind of world.”
Pierre was among the students who marched to converge in one of the school yards, where they began chants of “Never Again” and “This is BS.”
“There have been over 18 shootings since the beginning of this year,” said Chantel Green, 14. “That shows that we have to actually do something about this, or else this will continue and more people will die.”
Leila Martinez, 15, estimated that at least a thousand students participated in the walkout at the school. The school educates around 3,300.
“Guns were created to do one thing: to kill. And it’s really unfortunate that all these kids had to die,” Martinez said. “The government is not really doing anything about it. And so, for this generation, since we’re more aware about what’s going on, we’ll all try our best to take a stand and hopefully encourage a passing of gun legislation that will control all of this from happening again.”