At least 100 students in the Long Beach Unified School District marched to City Hall last Friday to protest gun violence.
The walk-outs were planned to coincide with the 19th anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado. The students made an appearance with signs and personal statements about gun violence to share with their peers.
But there were more than high school students participating in this act of civil disobedience. Some middle school students also decided that they should do something to honor the victims of Columbine High School.
Although they aren't near voting age, more than 50 students from Nelson Academy — an LBUSD middle school in Signal Hill — skipped class and grouped together at the neighboring park with signs and prepared speeches advocating for stricter gun control.
"We're here for all gun violence victims," student Sandra Feliciano said. "Today especially because its the 19th anniversary of the (Columbine) shooting."
In addition to the walkout and protest, the students grabbed trash bags and picked up trash around the neighborhood.
"We had a moment of silence so that everyone could pray," Feliciano said. "And every year Columbine students leave class on the anniversary to pick up trash, so we thought we should too."
Feliciano was one of the many students who helped organize the small rally. Her mother, Coral, was at the park to monitor the students, ensuring that there was an adult on site at all times.
"I'm here to support them because I believe in what they're doing," Sandra Feliciano said. "This is our next generation, and I think sometimes adults expect kids not speak up or have an opinion on the world around them."
Feliciano said that they tried to be responsible about the planning. They encouraged their peers to notify their parents, as well as invite them to join the youth at the park. Although the protest was civil, someone called the police on the middle schoolers.
"Someone called the cops and they came to check on us," she said. "We were doing our speeches and they were watching us from a distance, but they ended up saying that they supported what we were doing and then left."
She said that they also understood that there could be consequences for leaving campus.
"The school was against us walking out," Feliciano said. "The office told us that if we leave we can't come back (to campus)."
She added that they were told that they would receive suspensions if they were caught leaving class. Some of the students said that they opted to call their parents to pick them up from the park instead of trying to go back to school because an absence would be easier to deal with than a possible suspension.
"I don't agree with it, but if she gets into trouble, she knew what she was getting into," Coral said about her daughter's possible suspension. "They came and did community service, they didn't hurt anyone, and they're good kids — but doing stuff like this is disrupting and can have a price."
On Monday, Chris Eftychiou LBUSD's director of public information, confirmed that none of the students would be penalized or suspended for leaving. Representatives from Nelson Academy refused comment.
"We are the next generation," Feliciano said. "I don't think we're too young to start getting involved politically."
The students have an independent Instagram page where they are trying to connect with more Long Beach youth on the topic of gun control. That handle is @we.are.the.next.generation.
Stephanie Stutzman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.