On Saturday, Shawnee Mission East student body president Denny Rice will take the microphone at Theis Park and deliver a straightforward message: We don’t have to accept school shootings as normal anymore.
“It’s something that we’ve all grown up with,” said Rice, who was born the year after the Columbine shooting. “It’s deeply ingrained into the mainstream that this is just something we’re going to have to accept and deal with. And that’s really terrifying when you think about it.”
Rice is one of the organizers and speakers for the March for Our Lives KC event that will bring thousands of people together near the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in a demonstration in support of gun control measures. For the past several weeks, more than two dozen high schoolers from across the metro have been working to organize the event. The planning committee brought together students from Shawnee Mission, Independence and Kansas City, Mo., among other districts.
In addition to Rice, who will give a speech on gun policy and legislation, SM East students Lucy Brock and Aggie Williams are also among the participants. They’ll be singing “What About Love” from The Color Purple. Four SM West students will be delivering their original slam poetry performance about gun violence and school shootings, as well.
Alex Freeman, a SM East junior who was active in the organizing of the event and auditions for the speakers and performers, said she and her sister Ellie, a freshman, felt compelled to get involved after the Parkland, Fla., shooting. Alex is hopeful that the Kansas City rally — and the more than 700 additional March for Our Lives events planned across the country Saturday — will serve as a wake-up call to legislators that it’s time to act.
But, she said, she’s hesitant to predict any action soon.
“I’m not super confident that anything will change right away,” she said. “But it’s time that people stand up and make their voices heard.”
Rice shares the sense that Saturday’s rally is only the start of something, that it will likely take years for the group to achieve its goals.
In his speech Saturday, he’ll be calling for Kansas and Missouri legislators to consider reforms like raising the minimum age for the purchase of a firearm to 21, and ensuring local-level governments have the ability to set their own firearms regulations.
“It is incredibly tragic that we see it happening again and again and nothing changes,” he said. “The thing that really motivated me to get involved was seeing the kids in Parkland, the frustration that was obvious in their faces and their voices… Gun control is going to be a campaign issue for people of this generation moving forward.”
(The photo at the top of the post is by Mission Hills photographer Rusty Leffel, who traveled to Los Angeles for a gun reform rally in Los Angeles after the Parkland shooting. You can see his full gallery from the event here.)