Nina Strudwick plans to cut class for 17 minutes Wednesday, and she's prepared to face the consequences.
The Howard High School sophomore is among students from more than 2,500 schools who have pledged to join in the Enough: National School Walkout one month after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting.
The national initiative was organized by the Women's March Youth Empower activist group. At 10 a.m. Wednesday, participants will leave their school buildings or classrooms and gather for 17 minutes, a minute of remembrance for each person killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"We demand Congress pass sensible legislation that would help keep us and our loved ones safe from gun violence at school, and beyond," the Youth Empower website states. "Congress needs to do more than tweet thoughts and prayers after school shootings. They must take meaningful action to pass sensible federal gun reform legislation that will greatly reduce school shootings and save the lives of students and teachers."
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Events largely are being held at high schools, but some middle schools and colleges are also involved. Besides Howard High, other nearby walkout sites include Georgia College in Milledgeville, Rehoboth Middle School in Griffin and Furlow Charter School in Americus. Several events have been planned in the Atlanta area.
It's possible that groups at other schools could participate but have not registered online. Mount de Sales Academy in Macon has planned an alternative activity, a 17-minute prayer service in remembrance of the victims, according to the school.
Strudwick said she realized a tragedy like this could strike anywhere and happen to anyone, and that spurred her to organize the observance at her Macon school. So far, about 30 students have said they will stand in silence with her at Howard High's atrium Wednesday. She stressed that the walkout is not against the administration of her school or the Bibb County district.
"The purpose of this walkout is to show solidarity, to remember all the students and teachers who have died in school shootings, and to show the students in Capitol Hill trying to open lines of discussion and dialogue and push for change that they are not alone," Strudwick said. "With this, I hope to gain visibility and show that students and youth have a voice that needs to be heard.
"We are able and willing to engage in politics of our country and make it better for future generations."
Strudwick said she could face disciplinary action, not for practicing her right to free speech but because she will be skipping class at her high school and disrupting the learning environment.
So far, principals at other Bibb County schools have not heard much interest from their students in the walkout event, but all the schools are prepared and have consistent plans in place for safety and discipline, said Stephanie Hartley, communications director for the Bibb district.
"While administrators want to be supportive of students’ freedoms to express themselves, we cannot afford to support a disruption of instructional time during the day," Hartley said in an email. "The schools’ response to students who participate in the student walkouts will be a measured response. This means that currently at schools when a student skips class, they might receive detention. If they skip class and cause a loud disruption, the response in dealing with the situation might be greater."
Georgia College freshman Justin Hockey said more people seem to care and want to be a part of change now, and seeing everyone so passionate about the issue has inspired him to speak up too. He planned the upcoming peaceful protest at his college and also joined the community outreach committee for the March for Our Lives in Atlanta on March 24.
Georgia College students will meet at the school's free speech zone at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Hockey, a math major with a teaching concentration, said several people plan to participate, but he hopes more will join them that day. Because they are on a college campus, they didn't have to get permission from administrators and won't face disciplinary action.
"We are the people of tomorrow. Pretty soon, we're going to grow up and we're going to be in charge in this country, and we don't want it to be a mess. If we just sit idly by now, then it's probably going to continue," Hockey said. "Just because we're in Milledgeville doesn't mean that we can't stand up and have a voice too. For me, it's about representation."