If a gunman never walked into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, Indiana teens Ramatou Soumare and Isabella Fallahi probably never would have met.
Soumare, a senior at Warren Central High School, grew up worrying about her four younger siblings, especially after two classmates were killed in a shooting last year. In her life, gun violence has been a consistent, close and real threat.
Fallahi, a freshman at Carmel High School, grew up hearing about mass shootings, but didn’t feel truly afraid until her school received violence threats in the days following the Parkland shooting. Police said the threats were “fabricated,” but Fallahi said her fear was real.
Brought together by fear, their connection is now about change, both nationally and locally.
Soumare and Fallahi are two of eight high schoolers in Indiana leading the state’s piece of a national movement against gun violence — a movement driven again Tuesday when authorities said a student gunman opened fire at a high school in southern Maryland, injuring two students before an armed school resources officer intervened.
Started by students from Stoneman Douglas, more than 500,000 teens and adults are expected to march through the streets of Washington, D.C., on Saturday, USA Today reported.
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The group of Indiana teens, who have recruited students from at least five different high schools, has been spending their Saturday mornings and after-school hours planning Indiana’s branch of the national March For Our Lives protest against gun violence, a rally in front of the statehouse from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday.
Exactly one week prior, Warren Central senior Brandon Warren stood in front of a floor-to-ceiling whiteboard in an Indianapolis classroom that became their rally planning headquarters. He carefully wrote out the rally’s schedule.
Students filled the front of the classroom, a couple took notes with dry-erase markers on the whiteboard-topped tables.
The goal for the two-hour meeting was narrowing down the agreed-upon speaking points. They will call for stricter gun control laws, including expanding background checks and raising the age for gun permits — demands similar to those made by teenagers from Stoneman Douglas.
But they are also trying to turn people’s focus to the violence that happens so regularly in Indianapolis.
“If a shooting that happened miles away in Florida can affect the city of Indianapolis, where so many now want to march and protest, if that’s the case then a shooting that happened within 50 miles of our local citizens, it should effect them the same way,” said Brandon Warren, a senior at Warren Central.
Here, the rally’s message isn’t as political, and more about relationships, Brandon said. He’s calling on adults, schools, police and even government officials to “fill the gaps” and “be there” for teenagers before violence happens.
“Our big issue isn’t mass shootings,” Brandon told students during the meeting. “Our big issue is homicides.”
As president of We Live Indy — an organization started by Warren Central students last summer against youth violence — Brandon can easily rattle off some of the more shocking local statistics. Indianapolis appeared to set a new record number of criminal homicides in 2017, reaching 150.
Soumare has confronted the concern that it took a shooting miles away, in a more affluent area, to start a widespread conversation “when we’ve been experiencing gun violence in our city for such a long time.”
“I don’t care who it happened to or who started the nationwide conversation,” she said. “I just care that it’s being talked about and that people are understanding it more and getting involved.”
During the meeting, there were a handful of supportive adults relegated to a table in the back of the room, next to the untouched bowl of fruit and box of cookies. Larissa Jones, from the Women’s March of Indiana, quietly took notes on her laptop. She’s serving as an adviser and her organization is offering some monetary support, she said. The students also received a $5,000 grant from Everytown for Gun Safety.
But it’s clear the high schoolers are leading the charge.
“We really feel like, as high schoolers, we are really in the middle of this and we’re the ones who have to make a change because it’s our schools and our situation where it could happen,” said Romy Candon, a senior at the International School of Indiana. “I feel like it’s also our responsibility.”
Brandon was checking his Apple Watch every few minutes as texts and calls came in. He apologized to the group for being a little slow to respond, and promised to have the speaker schedule finalized within a few days.
“I’m a normal kid, just like you guys,” he said, lightly. “I have a life.”
In all seriousness, each student has made it clear this cause will remain their first priority.
“My biggest fear with this is that within a month or two this message will die, and my biggest goal is to not let this message die,” Brandon said. “It shouldn’t take a shooting for the message to live.”