They've staged massive walkouts from school. They've publicly called out the National Rifle Association and local lawmakers. Now, they're taking their fight for stricter gun laws to their largest stage yet: the nation's capital.
Hundreds of Minnesota students are traveling to Washington, D.C., this week to join a large wave of young activists planning to participate on Saturday in the mother of all student marches to protest gun violence. The March for Our Lives demonstration, organized by the Florida students who survived one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, is expected to draw 500,000 people, organizers say.
For the young Minnesotans going to D.C., the march offers a rare opportunity to make their voices heard on an issue they care deeply about.
"The American people have been very clear for years now," said the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of Protect Minnesota, a gun violence prevention group that has chartered a bus to transport a group of kids from North Minneapolis to Washington, D.C. In all, more than 200 kids from several schools around the metro area are traveling to Washington, D.C. "We want background checks, we want to be able to remove guns from those who are dangerous, and yet our politicians haven't chosen to pay attention to that. [Now] they have to pay attention to these kids. These kids, they're not going away."
Protect Minnesota and two other local organizations — #MNeverAgain and the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) — have raised $23,000 to send students from North High and Patrick Henry High in Minneapolis, along with Sibley High School in Mendota Heights.
As they prepared to depart earlier this week, organizers worked quickly to secure permission slips from parents, book hotels and transportation, pay travel insurance costs for all students, and order background checks for adults chaperoning.
During their visit to D.C., the students planned to tour Howard University and the new Smithsonian Museum on Friday to learn about African-American history, culture and the civil rights movement. Putting kids on a bus for 20 hours for just a march, Bence said, would not have been a complete teachable moment. "We really wanted them to have an opportunity to benefit from this as well," she said.
NAZ scholars Andre Broadnax, 16, and Antiqua Flint, 15, who are among those marching in Washington, D.C., said gun violence has been a widespread issue in their neighborhood and they feel that their plea for help has long been ignored.
Broadnax and Flint said they are marching to find justice for gun violence victims and to find a solution.
"We need a compromise and there should be some type of impact that shows they [lawmakers] are actually taking care of us," said Flint, a Minneapolis South High sophomore.
Added Broadnax: "I take it very personal that something needs to happen. I'm marching to the streets from the streets."
Niema Broadnax, the mother of Andre Broadnax, said it has been a challenge to talk about guns with her son who has gained appreciation for the Second Amendment and wants to join the military after he graduates. The march, she said, will give Andre an opportunity to gain compassion for victims of gun violence.
"I want him to have a well-rounded perspective on this subject," said Niema Broadnax, who writes about guns and domestic violence for Camden News, a neighborhood newspaper. "Yes, you can be pro guns, but you need to understand the damage that guns cause."
In a show of support and to denounce gun violence, about 80 kids from different Jewish denominations left Thursday from Beth Jacob Synagogue in St. Paul to join the march.
A GoFundMe group raised nearly $13,000 to send students from the University of Minnesota to the march. Another group has raised money to send eight students from Roosevelt High School to D.C.
Before the Saturday march, all the groups from Minnesota will have a reunion and meet with U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, D-Minn., to learn about ways to conduct a peaceful protest. Minnesota youth group students from the United Church of Christ, Minnesota conference met Friday with staff from U.S. Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.,, said Sara Severs, deputy chief of staff for Walz.
Meanwhile, more than a dozen sister marches are planned in Minnesota, including St. Paul, Duluth, Brainerd, Grand Rapids, Mankato East, Rochester, Willmar and Winona.
The local Sandy Hook Promise chapter and the First Congregational Church of Anoka UCC will host a prayer vigil on Friday night to honor victims of gun violence.
Moms Demand Action's local chapter and Protect Minnesota are lending support to Students Demand Action, a group that advocates for tighter gun laws, to spearhead the St. Paul march.
Marchers will start at Harriet Island Regional Park at 9:30 a.m. on Saturday and head to the State Capitol. Organizers are telling supporters to go straight to the Capitol because of the limited space at the park and the large number of participants expected.
"What's happening right now with gun legislation in this country is not OK," said one of the St. Paul organizers, Ana Hymson, who graduated from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2015 and now lives in Minnesota.
"I want this march to have an impact, and I want to see change."