Morristown High School junior Alexandra Stephens says she wants to study engineering, without fear.
“It really is our lives on the line….if you go to any school, or any public place, you’re in danger. But especially in schools,” said Stephens, one of 16 students from area towns involved in the planning.
“This whole movement is student-led,” said Mendham High School sophomore Bella Bhimani, organizer of the local march, which she describes as a nonpartisan push for tougher gun laws in the wake of mass shootings that have rocked the country.
Bhimani stepped up as soon as she learned that survivors of the Valentines Day massacre in Parkland FL had begun organizing.
“These shootings are affecting students most. We might be able to get more done than adults have in the past,” she said.
Some 3,500 people have indicated online that they are coming, and Bhimani said she thinks the crowd could exceed 5,000.
Mayor Tim Dougherty promises snow will be cleared from the downtown. At 11 am he will welcome the youths outside town hall at 200 South St., then hand the microphone to nine students, including Morristown High School senior Nile Birch, representing the African American cultural club Melanin Minds.
Students will march to the historic Morristown Green–which is largely roped off so lawns may recover from January’s Women’s March— and return to town hall, concluding by 2 pm.
“This is what makes our country great, to see our youth rallying for a cause,” Dougherty said. “Hopefully, these rallies will bring about change.”
The students have raised more than $9,600 online for a sound system rental and other march-related expenses. Logistical help has come from sponsors NJ 11th for Change, Moms Demand Action, BlueWaveNJ and the Morristown Area League of Women Voters.
“Many people discount their efforts solely because of their age, but if you listen to their words, feel their passion for these issues, understand their commitment to this cause, you will become a believer too,” said Saily Avelenda, executive director of NJ 11th for Change.
“I am incredibly hopeful that these kids can bring about the change they seek. Don’t discount them. We were discounted too, and look what NJ 11 has done in a year,” said Avelenda, whose grassroots group kept pressing Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11th Dist.) for a town hall meeting until he decided to retire instead.
High schoolers from Mendham, Morristown, Chatham, Randolph, Dover, Basking Ridge, Montclair and Bloomfield made up the planning committee, said Bhimani.
Randolph High School senior Brianna Arends created a logo incorporating school colors from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown CT and Columbine High School in Colorado–all scenes of deadly shootings.
Bella Bhimani’s mother, former state Senate candidate Lisa Bhimani, said she did some praying when snow threatened the Morris County St. Patrick’s Parade in Morristown earlier this month.
The parade’s makeup date would have conflicted with March for Our Lives. Massive amounts of snow were cleared in time for the parade.
Morristown police and town officials have been very supportive, said Bella Bhimani, who serves on her student government and performed this month in her school musical, Seussical.
Stephens, an active member of Morristown High School’s “Girls Who Code” computer club, said some students there were galvanized to join the march after participating in last week’s National Student Walkout.
Many, she said, had been “frustrated and disappointed” by the school’s decision, citing safety reasons, to keep students inside for that protest.
“They said repeatedly over the intercom that if you leave the building, you will be faced with suspension.”
The few who did venture outside were assigned to write their Congressman as penance.
Students planning the march do not agree on all gun issues, said Stephens, known to friends as Lexie. She personally wants a ban on assault weapons and opposes proposals to arm teachers or allow gun owners from other states to carry concealed weapons into New Jersey.
“I like math, chemistry, physics. I want to be an engineer. I want to do all those things,” without fearing for her life every time she steps into a classroom, Stephens said.
“That’s what it comes down to. It’s a human issue.”