As students across the nation organized a school walkout this week to commemorate the passage of one month since a deadly shooting left 17 dead at a Florida high school, the father of one victim offered his advice to the young demonstrators determined to reduce gun violence.
“Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up,” Ryan Petty tweeted earlier this week.
His daughter, Alaina, was among those killed when a gunman opened fire on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last month.
According to the grieving father, a walkout will provide participants with an opportunity to exercise their bodies and their constitutional rights. However, he suggested a more significant reaction would include reaching out to their peers in kindness and acceptance.
Petty encouraged students to “walk up to the kid who sits a lone (sic) and invite him to sit with your group” and similarly approach others in need of positive interaction.
His post mentioned “the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room” and “the kid who causes disturbances in class” as the types of children who could be helped by a compassionate classmate.
In general, Petty stressed the pursuit of unity over division as a key step toward realizing the ultimate goal of a safer society.
“Walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know them — you may be surprised at how much you have in common,” he wrote.
The post ended with a call to action Petty framed as a meaningful way to memorialize the lives lost last month in Parkland.
“Build on that foundation instead of casting stones,” he wrote. “I challenge students to find 14 students and 3 adults to walk up to and say something nice in honor of those who died in FL on the 14 of March. But you can start practicing now!”
In an interview with WBUR, Petty shared a few other ideas he believes could help secure the nation’s schools.
“We’re going to take these soft targets — the schools are soft targets. We’ve got to change that,” he said. “We’ve got to keep guns out of the hands of people that want to hurt themselves and hurt other people. And I think, in this case, in particular, there were signs that the shooter wanted to hurt other people.”
While many of the students to emerge as activists in the wake of the Feb. 14 massacre have focused their attention on gun control as a method to prevent school shootings, others have also echoed Petty’s advocacy of kindness.
During Wednesday’s walkout at a high school in Washington state, the lone demonstrator to address the student body expressed a similar theme.
“You should say that you love your neighbor,” Angelica Mansfield told her peers. “You should be there for them, sit with them at lunch, tell them that you’re their friend, that you’re going to be there for them whenever they need you.”
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