On Thursday morning, they came together at Thurgood Marshall Academy for a #NeverAgain rally against gun violence, in advance of Saturday's March For Our Lives. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Cameron Kasky, Alex Wind, Ryan Deitsch, Jackie Corin, David Hogg and alumni Matt Deitsch were all scheduled to be in attendance.
For TMA senior Zion Kelly, it’s a cause that’s both personal and painful.
“Losing my brother, it changed my perception of the world,” Kelly said. “It was very traumatizing. And it’s still hard to live with to this day.”
Zion’s twin brother, Zaire, is one of two students the school lost to shootings in just the past year.
Zaire Kelly was just 16-years-old when he was killed last September. Police said he was shot when someone tried to rob him in the area of 13th and Downing Street.
The students said in a press release that they held the rally to "demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools."
Staff at Thurgood Marshall Academy say that kind of fear is an issue for a lot of their students.
In January, another Thurgood Marshall Academy student was fatally shot: not at school, but in the community. Nineteen-year-old Paris Brown lost his life in a shooting on Skyland Place.
“When you ask most of our students, they will identify Thurgood Marshall Academy as one of the places where they feel most safe. When they are in this building, they feel safe and ready to learn,” said Social Studies teacher Karen Lee. “But where they feel unsafe is getting to and from the school.”
Kelly said his brother’s death has inspired him to raise awareness about the gun violence that kids in urban schools have been dealing with for years.
“I think it’s really important, because gun violence has been a huge problem in our communities in Washington and in a lot of urban areas around the nation, but we never got the awareness and attention that we need to stop it,” Kelly said.
Kelly’s been invited to speak during Saturday’s March for Our Lives. He says he’s also looking forward to meeting with Parkland students on Thursday at his school.
The march was announced by Parkland students just days after 17 people were killed when a gunman opened fire Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Police later arrested 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz and charged him with 17 counts of premeditated murder.
Lee said she thinks there’s a lot that students from Parkland and students from Thurgood Marshall Academy can learn from each other.
“I think they have a lot in common in just being teens who are passionate about the things that impact them. And I think they both lost their friends,” Lee said. “And I think it’s really important for our students to also share in the differences, and to understand from the Parkland youth around what it’s like not to feel safe in a school building. Just like they can learn from us what it’s like to not feel safe as you’re traveling to and from school. So I think that conversation is truly transformative.”