SVSU students participated in the national March for Our Lives campaign on Saturday, March 24, at 8 p.m. starting at the SVSU Bell Tower.
March for Our Lives is a national campaign organized by survivors of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting on Feb. 14, where 17 students were killed. Organizers called for activists across the nation to organize their own March for Our Lives vigils for those who lost their lives to gun violence this year and to call for gun control legislation.
While the main march was held in Washington, D.C., 846 local events were also held globally on Saturday.
The SVSU vigil was organized by SVSU social work students and was supported by the RSO Social Justice Rapid Response Team, which planned the event along with social work professor Chris Fike and Phi Alpha, which helped March for Our Lives SVSU reserve space for the event.
Social work students Alaynah Smith, Abbey Stemple, Shamon Clement, Katie Laatsch and Kristi Root planned and coordinated the event.
Over 70 students and community members showed up to the protest. Many students joined the protest as they marched around campus, including a group of students visiting from Oakland University.
Smith and her fellow social work majors got involved in the movement after the Parkland shooting.
“I participated in the walkouts in Midland (after the Parkland shooting),” Smith said. “We wanted to do more here at SVSU. We’re all students here, and we thought that it was really important to do one on our own campus and show people that it’s not that hard to stand up for stuff on your own.”
The event began with speaker Lesley Lebrun, an outreach coordinator for the Everytown for Gun Safety Michigan movement. Lebrun’s journey as an activist began when her brother, Mark, came to home to visit from the army. A friend asked him to pick him up from a party when a young woman whom Mark didn’t know was sexually assaulted by her boyfriend at the party.
“(The boyfriend) went to the basement with a loaded handgun,” Lebrun said. “When he came up from the basement, he immediately engaged in an enraged dialogue with my brother about who he was and why he was in his home. … In the end, a woman ran for her life, and my unarmed brother, who never threatened or laid a hand on this man, was shot five times by a 19-year-old he never met who was in illegal possession of a fireman.”
After her brother’s death, Lebrun’s father died by suicide using a gun.
Lebrun encourages all students and community members to take a stand and demand their local politicians fight for strengthened gun control laws.
“I want you to do what I did in 2014 when I couldn’t take knowing that teachers and students were murdered in their school, and I still had done nothing,” Lebrun said. “I want you to be courageous. I want you to be fearless.”
After the speech, students marched around First Year Suits, The MJ Brandimore House and inside Curtiss Hall.
The student leaders hoped their peers and community members left feeling empowered to act in future movements and protests.
“For me, I think (it is important to feel) part of a movement,” Laatsch said. “I think definitely during my first movement was a very emotional, empowering time, and I hope that students who did come to this also felt that same way.”
Smith cited the importance of acting locally.
“A lot of people feel they can’t get involved unless they can go to Washington or Lansing,” Smith said. “We wanted people to see that, if you just come out for an hour for a march or write a letter to a representative, that matters.”