On Friday, April 5, a group of students, teachers and parents from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and teachers were killed in a mass shooting in February of last year, came to Pittsburgh for the weekend.
They came to Pittsburgh to show solidarity and a very personal grasp of the enormity of our own tragedy at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October. They came to offer their experiences during and since they lost their friends and family. They talked about what they have been doing to try to make something good come out of the heartbreak that will never leave them.
Friday morning began with a visit to Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill. Rabbi Ron Symons of the Jewish Community Center, which helped organize the visit, said that this meeting was about teens talking to their peers about creating change. As the generation that’s coming of age to face significant problems, young people need to see that they can make a difference.
One by one, five students spoke. All had been at school that February 14th, Valentine’s Day, of 2018. Each tried to convey how their lives changed forever that day.
Also on Friday, the group went to the Tree of Life synagogue to honor and pay their respects to those killed on October 27th. Friday afternoon they met with Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who said, “Now Parkland and Pittsburgh are forever bonded.”
Other weekend events included the “Parkland to Pittsburgh: Stronger Than Hate Town Hall” (which can be viewed here), a community discussion involving survivors of both tragedies and other community leaders about what can be done going forward. Saturday, they attended a Pittsburgh Pirates game, and on Sunday joined the JCC’s 13th annual JServe community service day.
This common theme emerged from everyone in the Parkland group: activism has helped them come to terms with the tragedy and they are committed to make something good come out of it. Rabbi Symons called the Parkland teens the best example of speaking out for change currently happening in this country. Their influence is pervasive. Their “March for Our Lives” was perhaps the largest student demonstration in American history. The waves they’ve made have opened eyes and changed laws.
Others in the Parkland group said the same. Lori and Ilan Alhadeff, who lost their daughter Alyssa, have created an organization called Make Our Schools Safe.
To see how people turn tragedy and heartbreak into empowerment is a great example for all of us. Some of the expressed ideas seem obvious: one person can make a difference. Don’t take life for granted. Do something for your community and your world. Use your voice to make things better. Vote.
But their experience, like that of the survivors and families of October 27th, has shown them that these aren’t just platitudes. They are acting on them with the passion and conviction of people who learned the hard way, the awful way.
If it’s possible to hope at some point there must come a tipping point that will galvanize the nation to demand change, this group isn’t waiting. Their school was named after a famous environmentalist and staunch defender of the Florida Everglades, and chosen by community vote. They also chose the Eagle as their mascot over the Gators; they’d rather fly than walk. That worthy legacy of passion and action has never been more relevant, or more necessary.