When Detroit students join their peers in cities across the country Wednesday in walking out of school to mark the one-month anniversary of the Parkland, Florida, school shooting, Ridgeley Hudson is planning to be at the front of one rally.
Hudson, a sophomore at Martin Luther King Jr. High School, has helped lead the planning for a two-mile march from the city’s east side to the Spirit of Detroit statue in front of the city and county building downtown.
Students’ goal, Hudson said, is to protest one of the solutions that lawmakers — and Detroit’s police chief — have proposed to keep schools safe: arming teachers.
“We’ll stand down there for about 20 minutes and let our voice be heard so that lawmakers know that we do not support teachers having guns in our school,” Hudson said.
At some schools, including Hudson’s, the protests have the support of administrators, who are offering buses, extra security, and other resources to help students participate. At others, officials are trying to rein students in, worried about their safety and lost class time.
Detroit school superintendent Nikolai Vitti said he sees the protests as an opportunity for students to learn leadership skills.
“I want you know that I’m on your side,” Vitti told a group of more than 20 student leaders, each representing a different high school, whom he brought together last week for a lunchtime meeting at the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men.
The students had come by taxi from their home schools to attend the meeting, where Vitti asked them to share their plans for Wednesday.
“I want to help,” Vitti told them. “I don’t want to become the voice of this. I don’t want to take your voice away. I want to only promote your voice and give you space to lead on this issue.”
Hudson shared his school’s plans. Alondra Alvarez, a senior at Western International High School in southwest Detroit, who is on a national organizing committee for Wednesday’s protest, said her school is planning a 17-minute walkout “to bring awareness to how, in Detroit, we’ve actually normalized gun violence in the last couple of years,” she said.
And student leaders from other city high schools, including Cass Technical High School, Renaissance High School, and the Detroit International Academy for Young Women also shared plans for walkouts, memorial ceremonies and marches near their schools.
The students at Western are planning speeches in three languages — English, Spanish, and Arabic — and the release of 17 balloons to commemorate the lives lost at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 when a former student with an assault rifle opened fire there.
Vitti told students that the district would provide extra security to schools planning walkouts as well as transportation for students who want to participate in another school’s event.
Students from several high schools expressed interest in buses that would take them to the Martin Luther King High School march. The students also discussed a larger, citywide student march on April 20, the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting and another planned national protest.
“We will work with those principals to organize a way to have you be connected to King’s process that will get you to the Spirit of Detroit,” Vitti said.
Vitti said the meeting last week was the third time he has brought student leaders together to discuss issues facing their schools since his arrival in Detroit last spring.
The meeting began as a discussion about plans for Wednesday before veering into a range of issues including school safety, the value of school metal detectors, and whether high school students should have to wear uniforms.
Also discussed: the quality of cafeteria lunches and the district’s plans to start giving students ID cards that they’ll swipe in the cafeteria as part of a new system that will keep track of what students are eating — and which foods should be removed from the menu.
Next year, Vitti said, he plans to make the student gatherings more formal, with students at each school electing a representative to join the citywide forums.
“I want the district to allow you to continue to grow as leaders,” Vitti told the group last week. “I want to create space that you can feel safe, well organized and supported.”