Speaking out for their lives

Joanna Tebbs Young / Photo

Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY

March 24 was a beautiful day. And I don’t just mean the weather. Yes, it was bright with the early spring sun, and the temperature was almost above freezing. But what made this past Saturday the most beautiful were the voices raised, the strong words spoken — and sung — for our children’s safety.

Standing in the snow was a large crowd, I’m guessing 500 strong, but I’m really bad at estimating things like that. I do know the sea of adults, teens, children and dogs haloing the gazebo was many people deep. Signs held above heads expressed sadness, anger, or demands for change in the light of the thousands of children who have died in school shootings.

Organized and lead by high school students from Rutland High, the event was coordinated by senior Victoria Quint. The speakers, all teenagers (with the exception of Representative Linda Joy Sullivan), begged the adults to vote, and encouraged their classmates to register as soon as they turned 18 — which they could at a table set up right there in the park. Well-spoken, well-informed, and passionate, each student speaker, their grief and frustration tangible, delivered a message of determination. The crowd responded — many through tears — in kind.

The last two speeches on the program were actually performances. First came junior Anny Lin reading “Chambers Of A Gun,” a powerful and cleverly worded poem by Zanne Langlois. Anny’s reading was incredibly strong and emotionally charged. Lastly, freshman Hali Young (Disclaimer: she is my daughter) sang a song she had written for this occasion. I don’t need to tell you how emotional that was for me. In fact, I will let Hali tell you herself what Saturday’s experience meant to her.

“At first you look out, shivering and wondering if you should grab the boy’s hand next to you. He is cold. And so am I. We stand together, the ten of us. Facing the crowd of marchers, waiting for our turn to speak to them. I am waiting for my turn to sing.

“There is a certain point that you get to when you are singing. It’s the same feeling the drop of a roller coaster gives you. Your lungs and your heart contract in what feels like a breath, but really is a note echoing through the microphone across the park. I have something I need to say.

“I don’t know what it was like in the ‘olden days.’ And for me, the olden days are any time before the 21st century. But I do know that times have changed drastically when it comes to what’s considered socially acceptable and what’s not. Your skirts don’t have to cover your ankles and children can’t work in a factory. And you also can’t get away with telling a hurting teenager they are ‘emotionally brainwashed.’ My generation has proved this over this past month. On Saturday my fellow high school students and I showed that even a city as small as Rutland can start a ripple that brings waves.

“Words can touch people, just as a feeling is contagious. At the march on Saturday there was a feeling of hope. It felt like a tide coming in. It felt like we were all leaning in.

“We had a message: We are all here and we are in this together. No turning back.”

That the kids are involved, that students all over the country are rising to say, “Enough!”, these kids who haven’t known a world before Columbine, tells me change is coming. I believe in these kids. They are strong, I hear it in their voices. Their conviction and love shines. They are being the change they want to see in the world. And I am so proud of them all. And grateful.

Thank you. It was — and will be — a beautiful day.

Joanna Tebbs Young, MA-TLA

Joanna Tebbs Young is a freelance writer, author, and expressive writing coach living in Rutland. Email her at joanna@wisdomwithinink.com.

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