After some initial chatter and giggles, the teens became silent. Some bowed their heads, locked hands with their classmates and held signs that read "We Are United. We are Strong," "Fear Has No Place in Schools," "Howard is With You" and "Never Again."
About a hundred Howard High students stood together inside the atrium of their Macon school at 10 a.m. Wednesday, joining in the National School Walkout on the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. They gathered for 17 minutes, a minute of remembrance for each of the 17 victims, and then returned to their classes.
The national initiative, which called for federal gun reform legislation to make schools safer, was organized by the Women's March Youth Empower activist group. More than 3,100 walkouts — at middle schools, high schools, colleges and off-campus sites — were registered on the group's website prior to the event, including events at Howard High and Georgia College. Some students are facing disciplinary action for their participation.
"I’m so overwhelmed by the support that I saw today," said Sophomore Nina Strudwick, who organized the walkout at Howard High. "Standing there in silence with all my peers just felt so powerful. Even though we weren't talking, we were showing that we had a voice. Everything went so much better than I’d hoped.”
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Students from other schools also joined in the action Wednesday morning. About fifty Wesleyan College students gathered for an observance, in addition to President Vivia Fowler and some faculty and staff, the school reported.
In Bibb County, about 220 students from Central High participated; 50 from Southwest High; 65 at Rutland High; and 30 to 40 at Northeast High, according to the district. At Rutland Middle, 100 students met in the media center and 350 in the cafeteria, where they learned about the purpose of the 17-minute observance.
The Monroe County district had 30 students at Monroe County Middle and 206 at Mary Persons High who got involved, and they will not be punished. Students at a few schools in the Houston County district also staged walkouts, and they were not disciplined, district representatives said.
Bibb County students who participated will face after-school detention, and they'll be encouraged to write letters to their legislators during that time, according to the district. Howard High School Principal Shannon Norfleet said this assignment will show students how they can continue to protest and have their voices heard.
Strudwick said she will get one day of in-school suspension, not for the act of protesting but for skipping class and convincing others to do so. She knew about the consequences beforehand, and the punishment is "no harsher" than what any student would receive for cutting class and getting others to, she said.
Tenth-grader Sharif Robbins-Brinson and one other student walked out of Macon's Academy for Classical Education charter school and were sent home. Robbins-Brinson, who is the student body president, said students were told in advance they would face this consequence, but he participated anyway because he felt it was important.
“I think it was necessary for somebody to come outside,” he said. “I think (this movement) is great because it’s something that the students can help with and that the students wanted to do. This is such a big thing in that it directly affects students.”
Senior Kaston Hall was among the Rutland High students who gathered in front of the school at 10 a.m. Some students stood in silence, while others chanted or held signs.
“I thought it went great at Rutland," he said. "From what I’ve seen on the news, I think it went great across the country. I really hope our representatives in Congress take a look at this and finally decide on some actions. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue; I think this should be an American issue, and it needs to be addressed.”
The walkout extended beyond schools. Dozens of Democratic legislators from both the House and Senate filed out of their chambers and into one of the grand marble lobbies of the state Capitol. They remained for roughly 17 minutes, naming each victim of the Parkland shooting and pausing for a moment of silence ahead of remarks from several legislators.
"When you hear a national call from students around the county saying that we oppose gun violence, that we need sensible measures from legislators to actually help us to be safe in our schools where we’re trying to get an education to go on and become productive citizens of the united states, the last thing we want to do is to not stand in solidarity with those students in Florida and all across the nation," Macon state Rep. James Beverly said just after the short ceremony. "So today, we want to send a signal to Georgians that the legislators hear you, that we’re going to respond."
Maggie Lee contributed to this report.