On Friday, May 3, the UNC Charlotte chapter of March For Our Lives (MFOL) organized a rally with various students, faculty and elected officials on the events that have rocked our campus. The event took place three days after a shooting on the campus of UNC Charlotte killed two and injured four, and two days after a shooting at the off-campus student apartment complex University Village killed one and injured two.
Students, faculty, staff and other community members congregated under the sweltering afternoon sun, holding signs reading, “Books not bullets” and “This is a school zone not a war zone.”
Cade Lee and Margaret Murphy, the chapter director and outreach director of UNC Charlotte’s chapter, organized the event. Lee said this was the 12th school shooting of 2019 and he wanted to make sure “we realize that, regardless of your political affiliation, that you can come together during a tragedy like this and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.” Murphy concurred, saying “there is a solution, and we need to be pushing for our legislators to find it.”
Rally attendee Liz Jenkins had been supporting the movement from the sidelines and thought it was important to show up for it now. “I’m going to be a teacher,” said Jenkins, “I’ve always had this on my mind, that this [kind of] thing could happen in my classroom in the future.” Her girlfriend Haley Hutchens, a nursing major, agreed. “It kinda scares me that in the future I might have to treat kids who’ve gotten hurt in this way. It’s heartbreaking, and it needs to stop now; it needs to stop with us.”
Leaders from every level of government arrived to speak, from City Councilmembers to a member of Congress. Susan Harden is a Mecklenburg County Commissioner as well as a professor and alumnus of UNC Charlotte. Before she took the stage, we spoke to her about her thoughts about moving forward. “We’re profoundly upset,” Harden said, “I’m committed to working at the local level to create as much change as I can to mitigate gun violence.”
The rally began with an impromptu chanting from the crowd; attendees shouted, “No more guns, no more violence” and “Not one more” before the speakers took the stage. Lee honored the victims of the shooting and introduced the speakers. The first, Megan Beach, had been in Kennedy 236 when the shooting occurred. She applauded the community for its compassion, support and strength. “We will become stronger and better than ever before,” she said. “We will not be defined by this.”
In order of appearance, the speakers at the rally were: student and survivor Megan Beach; Mecklenburg County Commissioner and UNC Charlotte professor Dr. Susan Harden (D); Charlotte City Council Member-at-Large Dimple Ajmera (D); Charlotte City Council Member-at-Large Braxton Winston (D); North Carolina State Senator for District 40 Joyce Waddell (D); Director of the UNC Charlotte Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Studies Dr. John Cox; Congresswoman for the 12th District of North Carolina, Representative Alma Adams (D); student and chapter leader Margaret Murphy; and student Kristine Slade.
Several touched on the importance of voting in ending gun violence. Congresswoman Adams stressed how voters influence policy through choosing their policymakers. “If it were not for the citizens who have an opportunity to vote for those of us who serve, we wouldn’t have an opportunity to serve.” Commissioner Harden delivered a similar message. “If every student and if every employee voted, you could hand-pick your elected officials.” Senator Waddell followed up with a message on strength. “You have the strength — you have the power to change things.”
Other speakers discussed the generational divide in the fight against school shootings. “It’s really our fault as older people,” Commissioner Harden stated in an interview. “We’ve created the circumstances, and you really ought to hold us accountable for the world that we’ve created for you.” Though the rally’s attendees were primarily students, many older community members had shown up to support the movement.
Some speakers touched on their own experiences. In his speech, Councilmember Winston discussed the violence he faced as a child in Brooklyn, NY. “I grew up knowing the difference between shots that were just being fired into the air and when people were shooting at each other.” Dr. Cox talked about how when he was involved in the anti-apartheid movement at Appalachian State, he didn’t expect real institutional change. “But those things did happen, and it happened because…people weren’t imprisoned by ideas like ‘what’s possible?’ and ‘what’s not possible?’ and ‘we must be pragmatic’ and so on…They envisioned a better world and they helped to bring it about.”
Murphy read a letter from Governor Roy Cooper aloud as he could not make it to the event. Governor Cooper applauded the engagement of the UNC Charlotte community in the wake of such a tragedy and said, “we all must work together to address this crisis, and keep North Carolina safe.” Cooper highlighted his suggested changes to gun legislation and also stressed the need for Medicaid expansion for North Carolinians.
Graduating senior Kristine Slade closed out the rally with a call to action. She asked participants to come to the NAACP Stop the Violence Rally at Romare Bearden Park afterwards. She also touched on the recent shooting scare at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro and urged participants to not only fight for the end of gun violence, but remember the victims of the shooting.
“You cannot forget Niner Nation,” she cried. Wiping away sweat and tears, attendees cheered and prepared for the next rally.
Nikolai Mather contributed reporting.