Today marks one month since Nikolas Cruz killed 17 students and faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased AR-15 rifle. Since the massacre, the young survivors of the Parkland, Florida attack have asked for more than “thoughts and prayers” from lawmakers; they’ve demanded urgency and action around gun control.
At 10 AM today, high school students across the country walked out of school in support of the victims and survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School school shooting and to demand that Congress take legislative action on gun control. Once out of the classroom, students stayed outside for 17 minutes—one minute for each victim in the Florida shooting.
Sixteen-year-old Matt Diaz, a junior at Bronx Academy of Letters in Bronx, New York and a member of Integrate, NYC, an organization working to end de-facto racial segregation in New York City schools, was one of the many students who participated in the walkout. Not only did Diaz walk out of school alongside his peers, he also helped organize and publicize the walkout for all New York City schools through his work at Integrate, NYC. Broadly spoke to Diaz immediately after the walkout to learn about his experience, and what he hopes comes next.
BROADLY: Why was this walkout personal for you?
DIAZ:This walkout was personal because while I do a lot of work [with Integrate, NYC] for our city’s schools, I don’t do that much for my own school. Today was one of the first moments that I did something specifically for my school. Today was also personal for me because I’m a student first, and what happened in Florida could be something that happens to me—the sad fact is a shootout could happen any day. We need students to be at the forefront of this movement because we’re the ones affected.
What was it like organizing the walkout for your school?
It was easy for me to get this walkout organized because so many people wanted to join. Not only did students want to join in, they also wanted to lead. During planning, I decided to let others join in and lead, too. While I came in with specific plans, like I want to make an announcement or speech during the event, it was important to me that I wasn’t at the forefront of everything.
What would make you feel safer at school?
We need immediate gun control policy so students at all schools can feel safe. Personally, at my school, I feel safe because I have warm-hearted teachers and guidance counselors who are open to communicating with their students about anything. While my school is lucky to have such good administrators, I don’t think all schools are like mine. It’s important for guidance counselors and teachers to care about connecting with their students. I think if Nikolas Cruz had a connection with a teacher, he would have had more support and he might not have gotten to the point of a school shooting. If teachers attempt to make connections with high-school students, it makes you feel like you have someone by your side.
While you’re highly involved with Integrate, NYC and are no stranger to activism, today might have been the first time some other high schoolers have become political. Do you think young people are being politically activated?
I didn’t think that many students would come to the walkout at my school. But over 100 students showed up. During the walkout, I noticed that some kids that were inspired that so many people came. I think if kids see that a lot of people are attending, that’s what grows this movement.
What do you hope happens after this walkout?
I hope that there is gun control—now. I want universal background checks to be required before someone can buy a gun. I also want assault weapons to be banned. In addition to gun control legislation, I want the NRA to receive pushback because of today. The NRA has already received pushback since what happened in Florida from students and their communities. But now that students are standing up, I hope the government will pushback from the NRA, too, and do finally something about gun control.