Newtown students have been traveling the country, speaking and sharing their reflections on change and gun violence. Within two weeks of Junior Newtown Action Alliance (Jr NAA) Co-Chair Tommy Murray traveling to Texas to speak at a rally in Dallas, his fellow Co-Chair Jackson Mittleman traveled to California to speak on a panel for a session at the Education Writers Association (EWA) National Seminar in Los Angeles, held at the University of Southern California, May 16 to 18.
For May 5, Tommy had joined studentsmarch.org students at a #Rally4Reform protest, as previously reported in The Newtown Bee. Jackson also joined students from around the country to speak in Los Angeles. Emma González and David Hogg of Parkland, Fla., and Alex King of Chicago also spoke on the EWA panel, which was moderated by Evie Bland of Education Week. The panel was just one session during the three-day seminar.
Speaking on May 21 after returning from California, Jackson said being on the panel with the three other students gave him an opportunity to speak with his fellow panelists about their ongoing efforts. Student activists, he said, are doing many things across the country to promote change. Jackson was 11 and a student at Reed Intermediate School when the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened in 2012. He shared his experience from that day, and his fellow panelists reflected on their own experiences with gun violence.
Jackson said he was surprised by one comment from Alex, who shared a reflection that gun violence is so prevalent in Chicago that people can hear a gunshot and keep walking. In reaction, Jackson said on May 21 that people should be backing laws to fix the situation.
His three fellow panelists are all working in different ways to speak out against gun violence. Alex explained on the panel that he is a member of a student group, Peace Warriors, at North Lawndale College Prep High School. The Peace Warriors are described by the school as a group of students who work to “resolve conflicts using Dr Martin Luther King’s principles of nonviolence.” This school year alone, Alex said his group has supported 160 students. Both Emma and David have publicly called for change since the shooting on February 14 at their school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
“I respect them a lot for what they are all doing,” Jackson said of his fellow student activists.
While they are all part of the same national movement, Jackson said after the session that, “It can feel like we are very separate from each other, and we are all doing our own thing.” Yet the students are all working toward similar goals in different parts of the country.
The panel discussion was streamed live online. At one point, Jackson reflected on what life has been like in Newtown since 2012. At first, Jackson said it felt like there were three months of national media coverage of the town.
“Downtown Newtown is old churches from the 1700s and colonial houses, and a flagpole that is very iconic… The media was there for a long time,” said Jackson, remembering lines of media trucks. After the shooting, Jackson said some local parents began taking action. His group, Jr NAA, was formed within months of the shooting by Newtown High School students at the time. Eventually, the media trucks were no longer in town.
It can still hurt to talk about the shooting, Jackson said on the panel, but people are starting to talk more openly. He described some students still having tough reactions to reminders of that day, yet Jackson said he probably talks about the shooting at least once a day with friends.
“I just think that Newtown is so changed forever, and we don’t want to be defined by this tragedy,” said Jackson, adding that it can feel like having a tattoo of tragedy.
He told the roomful of education writers that Newtown can be defined by other things, like being a town where everyone knows their neighbor and having “really great ice cream.”
Later, David shared that if members of the media covered shootings “right,” shootings would no longer happen.
One thing Jackson said he wishes he had said at the session was that members of the media should highlight what local youth activists are doing in their own towns.
“If every town and newspaper could do that, it would help give [the youth activists] a voice,” said Jackson.
Newtown, Jackson reflected, could also be known around the country for its youth activism.
“We have the support of a lot of people,” Jackson said. “What started in Newtown is extending nation-wide and becoming a national movement.”
Newtown’s students are powerful and motivated to make change, he said.
Jackson also shared some upcoming efforts that the Jr NAA students have been working on, like supporting a voter registration drive for students. David also spoke about a student voter registration effort while on the panel.
Students in Jr NAA are also preparing to participate in the June 2 Wear Orange Walk & Rally for National Gun Violence Prevention Day, which will start at 5 pm on the Fairfield Hills Campus, according to Everytown For Gun Safety.
Jackson said he is thankful for his fellow Jr NAA students and his Co-Chair, Tommy Murray.
“Everyone has been working so hard over these last five years, and now we are starting to get a national audience for this,” Jackson said.
Jackson also said he is thankful that his mother, Kelly Mittleman, attended the seminar in California with him.
“There are so many people out there waiting to make a change, and now students are realizing that this is something they can get involved with too,” he added.
Education Reporter Eliza Hallabeck is a member of EWA.