After the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students around the country joined together to organize a national school walkout. While the protests were geared toward high school students, many parents felt younger children could also benefit from experiencing social activism.
Why walk out?
Heather Meyer, mother of Ella, a third grade student at Grove Patterson, summed it up succinctly: “I kept coming back to the fact that if they’re old enough to (participate in) lockdown training and old enough to be shot at, then they’re old enough to walk out.”
“Sometimes parents have to advocate for kids to give them opportunities,” continued Meyer. “We needed to organize something so that [these kids] knew we had their backs.”
Melissa Gregory, whose son Rufus is a classmate of Ella’s at Grove Patterson, added, “I felt like the walkout was really an important opportunity to teach our kids as politically engaged citizens. Being young doesn’t mean that you can’t make a difference.”
“I wanted them to think of themselves as responsible for making change and having the power to make change happen,” Gregory continued. “When you get together with friends, you can instigate change. Don’t just sit back and hope for the best; you have to get out there and make things happen.”
Parents advocating for change
Meyer and Gregory emailed TPS Superintendent Dr. Romules Durant and their children’s teachers to request their support for an elementary walkout. Gregory says, “I felt fortunate that they were behind this as an idea and that they are concerned about student safety and keeping an eye on everyone, especially littler kids. They all saw this as a teachable moment.”
The national 17-minute walkout–one minute for each of the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas–had a list of three demands: ban assault weapons, require universal background checks before gun sales, and pass a gun violence restraining order law that would allow courts to disarm people who display warning signs of violent behavior.
Grove Patterson walkout
The elementary-aged children at Grove Patterson Academy held signs and shared a moment of silence. Some parents advocated a “walk-up,” where children reach out with kindness to others who may be sitting alone at lunch or by themselves in the classroom, instead of a “walkout,” but Gregory countered, “Kindness and political protest are not mutually exclusive. I think [a walk-up instead of a walkout is sending the message that kids have the burden of being nicer. That’s not the message I want for my kids.” She continued, explaining, “These kids were attempting to make themselves visible and stand up for their own safety; don’t substitute that with a kindness activity.
Kindness activities can happen everyday.”
Gregory, an English professor at the University of Toledo, enjoys teaching “about the human experience” and hopes to make future generations more engaged and more empathetic.
Meyer holds two part-time positions. She has been the office manager at Inside Out, a home recreation supply and service business, for 19 years, and she recently became the Community Outreach Coordinator at Trinity Episcopal Church downtown.
Q&A with Heather Meyer & Melissa Gregory
Favorite family activity?
MG: The whole family enjoys vegging out around the house and watching a movie. I enjoy dragging them to the Art Museum.
HM: Going to the Art Museum.
Favorite solo activity?
MG: Ashtanga Yoga. Doing the thing that helps my body (and makes me taller).
HM: My Nikon camera.
Your life, in five words or less:
MG: Sleep deprived, but worth it!
HM: Involved, exhausting, humorous, artistic.
Favorite Toledo hangout?
MG: The TMA and Old Orchard.
HM: If I’m “adulting,” it’s The Attic.
Describe Toledo in a sentence?
MG: Toledo has the most heart and community pride of any city that I’ve ever lived in.
Best childhood holiday memory?
MG: My grandmother would do the big Polish Christmas Eve dinner called Wigilia. I have her recipes and make her pierogis every year.