Hundreds of protesters gathered as early as 8 a.m. at Miami Beach Senior High School to prepare for the March For Our Lives starting two hours later. It was among the hundreds around the world pushing against gun violence and for gun control laws.
Alec and Lucas Lau were among the early volunteers, handing out “March For Our Lives” and “Never Again” posters. Both are high school students at TERRA Environmental Research Institute and found out about the event through their mother, Emily, an active community volunteer.
“We want to be part of the change,” said Alec Lau. “We figured that coming here today is the best way to start making that difference.”
As the clock approached 10 a.m, Marjory Stoneman Douglas and Miami Beach High School students gave introductory speeches, imploring their fellow classmates to join them at the polls during primary elections in August and general elections in November.
McKayla Manning, Stoneman Douglas alumna and freshman at the University of Miami, teared up as she read her speech.
“When I first heard the news, I began to shake uncontrollably,” she told the crowd. “I couldn’t even begin to grasp the concept of what was about to take place. My good friend, Robert, had both of his beautiful sisters walk into those gates and only one came out. The families of those 17 victims are broken. My town is broken.”
The march began shortly afterward, led by the Miami Beach High School drum team, to Collins Park just over a mile away from the rally.
Maria and Fred Wright stood out from the crowd in their bright red shirts that read, “Moms Demand Action.” They carried a large poster of their son, Jerry Wright, who at age 31 was among the 48 killed at the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando on June 12, 2016.
Wright, a Florida International University graduate who moved to Orlando, had bought his first home and was working for Disney when murdered.
“One night, he went out with his friends and never came home because a man full of hate was able to buy weapons of war legally and easily,” said Maria.
The couple are now members of “Everytown for Gun Safety” and “Moms Demand Action,” movements for reforms against gun violence and education on gun control.
As hundreds gathered around Collins Park, a grand stage with a podium and 17 empty chairs with yellow roses stood out among the masses. They were the focus of the rally, placed there to honor the 17 victims of the Stoneman Douglas shooting.
More than 10 speeches were given by speakers including Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelbert, rapper and singer Flo Rida and singer Emily Stefan.
Jo Mersa Marley took the stage and performed two songs by his grandfather, Bob Marley: “One Love” and “Get Up, Stand Up.” The crowd sang along with their hands in the air.
The rally ended just before noon, and the band led marchers back to Miami Beach High.
Sam Carreño, an eighth grader at Ada Merritt K-8 Center, said that the protest was a success for young people everywhere.
“This movement is making us aware of what is to come,” he said. “We may be young, but we have our voices. I am still too young to vote, but I am fully aware of how important this is. This is just the beginning.”