Colorado is the next stop on the “Road to Change” tour, which is demanding more gun-control legislation and research around the prevalence of gun violence.
Survivors of the February 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, will join young Colorado gun-control advocates and community members affected by Colorado's mass shootings at a forum at Shorter Community AME Church in Denver on Friday.
Two youth-led coalitions, Never Again Colorado and the Colorado chapter of Students Demand Action, organized Friday’s event. Both organizations advocate for gun-control legislation aimed at preventing mass shootings and unnecessary violence.
“In Colorado, we have, unfortunately, a very intertwined history with the issue,” says Evan Davis, Never Again Colorado’s director of public relations. The shooting in Parkland surpassed the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Jefferson County as the deadliest massacre in U.S. history. “[We’re] twenty years removed from Columbine and we’re still talking about the same thing. For so many of us who’ve grown up in the school-shooting generation, we’re tired of being told we can’t talk about solutions because we’re politicizing tragedy.”
Although Colorado students and parents have long dealt with fears of mass shootings, it was the Parkland tragedy that galvanized student-led action in the state. Never Again Colorado formed in the wake of Parkland and the nationwide activism that followed it, and helped organize the March for Our Lives in Denver, which drew over 130,000 people. Its board of directors includes representatives from all seven Colorado congressional districts, and are all between the ages of twelve and 26. According to Davis, the organization centers on three components: community healing whenever tragedy strikes; raising awareness and recognition of the prevalence of gun violence; and action, which includes advocating for immediate legislative solutions as well as supporting research and discourse around long-term solutions.
Students Demand Action works on similar issues, with ten chapters across the state made up of high school and college students, according to its state director, Sam Craig, a sixteen-year-old junior at Chatfield Senior High School. Craig says he was inspired by the tragedy in Parkland to get involved in gun-control activism. Since then, he has spoken on panels to local news stations, organized a tri-school walkout involving his school, Columbine High School and Dakota Ridge High School, and lobbied the Colorado General Assembly to pass a “red-flag” gun-control bill that was ultimately struck down in the Senate. The bill would have allowed family members to seek court orders to remove firearms from individuals who they thought were a danger to themselves and others, according to Colorado Ceasefire.
The forum will also highlight the presence and consequences of gun violence in communities of color across Colorado. “As a black man, gun violence impacts my community every single day,” says Tay Anderson, the president of Never Again Colorado. According to a 2017 report by the Centers for Disease Control, black children are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than white children, in incidents including homicides, suicides and unintentional injuries.
Anderson, who is currently studying education at Metro State University of Denver, was recognized as a prominent Denver youth activist after he ran for the Denver School Board when he was just nineteen. Similar to other activists, he was motivated by the tragedy in Parkland to get more involved in gun control activism, but, he says, “I’ve been woke about the situation for a long time." As president of Never Again Colorado, he met this week with the Congressional Black Caucus about how best to raise these issues in the legislature. Anderson says that at the forum, he plans to push the Parkland activists to use their platform to speak out against violence in communities of color, including police brutality, and to advocate for gun-control laws that don’t facilitate discrimination toward gun owners of color.
“We’ve got people dying in Chicago every day, and I’m not seeing any tweets about these people dying,” Anderson says.
This isn't the first connection between student activists in Colorado and Parkland. On April 20, sixty students from Parkland High School joined students at Columbine High School to commemorate the nineteenth anniversary of the shooting at Columbine.
Friday's panel includes Paula Reed, a former teacher at Columbine and a survivor of the shooting there; Tom Mauser, the father of a student who was killed at Columbine; and Sandy Phillips, the mother of a victim of the Aurora Century 16 shooting. According to Craig, eight students from Parkland will be present on Friday, including David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, two of the most well-known activists. On Friday, they will determine which four students will speak.
“We’re really excited to be able to have these students come out and be able to hear from them,” Craig says. “It has been really surprising how much spirit there is, how much motivation there is to go out and protest and be involved in our democracy. We’ve been really happily surprised by how people are responding to these tragedies.”
The Parkland activists will also hold an informal community barbecue at Del Mar Park in Aurora at 5 p.m. today, July 12. Doors open at 6 p.m. for the event on Friday, which is free, but with limited space. Tickets guaranteeing admission are available on Eventbrite.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.