March 20, 2018

No One Was Listening

By Austin Bowman, Don Trowell, Faith Henning, & Khamari Brooks

Faith: Freshman year, there was a gunman in our school. He was a student, and he shot someone, but it was the wrong person, over an iPad and money. He darted out of the school, and we were on lockdown for three hours. We were all in different places. I was in the band room closet which is supposed to be made for band instruments but fit 50 plus kids in the class. We were like little sardines in there.

Austin: I heard someone tell the principal someone was shot even before any announcement was made. When the announcement came on, I felt a rush of fear. You don’t know what’s actually going on. You don’t know how many shooters there are, what type of weapons the shooter has or why they are doing this. It doesn’t matter what scale a shooting is. The fear during any shooting is the same because there is so much you don’t know.

Don: I saw the shooting happen, and it was just too much. It was the most instantaneous trauma I could ever think of or experience. I remember going to tell people to warn them and they were like, “No, what are you talking about? You’re literally insane Don.” It hit a little too close to home because something like that had happened to me that year already. I had seen another shooting outside of school that year. It gave me flashbacks and doubt in the school system’s will to keep myself and my peers safe

Austin: People that were close to the person who was shot could go to a counselor if they wanted to talk to someone, but there were no conversations to be had about policies in school or how we felt about it.

Faith: For the rest of that month, we felt like you’d better not get caught talking about it. At the time, I was a little baby freshman, so I didn’t dare say anything. I was actually traumatized. I didn’t realize it until this year because so many people have joked about it or not talked about it at all. But whenever the announcements come on, at certain times of the day, when they’re not supposed to come on, we associate it with what happened. I get anxiety.

Khamari: The shooting was one of the things that activated us. Probably a week later, people acted like nothing happened. But for certain students like us, it made us more willing to want to change the school and do things about the school climate. We started getting much more involved in our school community, whether that was participating in more extracurricular activities or just simply speaking out about issues.

Austin: When the shooting happened in our school, students were trying to speak out, and that was the first instance of student voice that I had seen at our school. Students wanted to talk, but it felt like no one was acknowledging what had happened. Whether the person died or not, this was something that affected our safety. Students in our school were writing letters, they were proposing ideas to administrators, but no one was listening.

Khamari: That’s when we started making some changes ourselves. We helped launch a program called LIFT. Our teacher, Mr. T., who started it wanted to help us talk about things we weren’t talking about and take our voices into the community. It was all about creating passion projects that allowed us to do things that improved the world around us and led to our involvement in a bunch of other programs that we helped start like the Black Student Union and What’s the Story. It also led us to connect with the Student Voice Team. All of these programs make space for students to reflect and be heard on issues concerning our education.

It’s important for students to speak up and speak out. It’s powerful. For example, the reason we started the Black Student Union was because we knew that some things needed to be talked about and we needed to spark a deeper conversation in our school and our community. The most uncomfortable conversations are the ones that are always the best and have the most meaning.

Don: We’ve done a lot of work, but there’s so much more to do. There are still adults who say, “Why give a student the time of day? Why should we listen to them?” But we’ve made so much progress in showing people why students should have a voice that it would be pointless to stop. There are a few teachers in my school who helped me understand why it was so important to help my community and those who don’t necessarily have a voice to do it themselves. I always felt like it was important but kept it inside. Talking about how I felt was never a priority until I met them. I was always able to speak my mind, but until I got involved, I was never able to promote a better way, to find solutions. I didn’t really have the information and education I do now. I feel like we are a light.

Faith: We participated in the walk out last week, but we did a walk-in at our school because we didn’t really have anywhere to go since there’s a main street right in front of our school. We wanted to keep the focus on the issue of gun violence. We had over 500 kids who chose to do it with us, and we saw that as a gauge that people are seeing what we are doing and know we are making a difference. They have respect for what we are trying to do. We talked about gun violence and awareness and how to recognize when students are in trouble.

Khamari: How you feel about school safety depends on where you’re coming from. I feel like our school needs to incorporate better security systems into schools, including metal detectors, more cameras, better security technology.

Austin: Of course, I agree that our schools need to be safe, but I don’t want us to transform our schools into fortresses. I feel like metal detectors, or more police officers, or teachers with guns, that doesn’t make me feel any safer. That’s not why I come to school! I don’t want to go to school seven hours a day and feel like I’m in a correctional facility! It’s ridiculous that instead of reforming gun laws to make it more difficult to secure a firearm, and banning high capacity magazines, that we increase the security at schools. Shootings happen at many different places. This does nothing for the people who are killed in mass shootings at concerts or nightclubs. We cannot settle for school security when the heart of the problem is the lack of gun reform in America.

Faith: I think the idea of see something, say something is important to keep schools safe because a lot of things can be prevented if a student speaks up.

Don: Students come from different backgrounds--even students from the same school. Students who come from more privilege see the system as more responsive to them. It proves to be a system that is more concerned for them in most cases. They are more trusting. They have more of a sense of security.

So maybe we can’t agree on how much freedom we are willing to give up in exchange for feeling physically safe at school. But we can all agree that none of us students wants to be further restricted when it comes to being heard. When it comes to making schools a safe place for everyone to learn, student voices, just like ours, have to matter.

These remarks were deliverd at the March For Our Lives Kentucky Rally organized by the Student Voice Team on the steps of the capitol in Frankfort on March 20, 2018.

Austin Bowman

Austin Bowman

Austin is a Yoda Corps Advisor and former member. He graduated from Fern Creek High School in 2018.

Khamari Brooks

Khamari Brooks

Khamari is a Yoda Corps Advisor of KSVT and former member. He graduated from Fern Creek High School in 2018 and is a student at Lindsey Wilson College.

Faith Hennig

Faith Hennig

Faith is a former member of KSVT. She graduated from Fern Creek High School in 2018 and is a student at DePaul University.

Don Trowell

Don Trowell

Don is a former member of KSVT. He graduated from Fern Creek High School in 2018 and is a student at Lindsey Wilson College.