#MeToo founder Tarana Burke and students from Hume-Fogg High School lead a demonstration on the steps of the Tennessee State Capitol. Photo by Cillea Houghton

By Cillea Houghton

NASHVILLE, TN — #MeToo founder and longtime social activist Tarana Burke encouraged students to take action in bringing about political change during her speech at Hume-Fogg High School on National Walk Out Day. The nationwide event commemorated the victims of the mass shooting that occurred on Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., claiming the lives of 17 students and staff members.

Burke, who was featured in TIME Magazine’s 2017 Person of the Year issue, began her career as a community organizer at the age of 14 and told the students that their voices are impactful in establishing social change, saying they can create their own media using online platforms.

“Protest doesn’t come with a hall pass,” Burke declared while addressing the students. “I started off just like you, I stood up in my school and I said ‘this is injustice and I won’t stand for injustice.’ I believe in protest, I believe in organizing, I believe in the power of youth voices and I believe that young people can make a difference.”

What started as an indoor demonstration turned into hundreds of students from Hume-Fogg embarking on an impromptu march on to the Tennessee State Capitol, chanting phrases like “we are 21st century leaders,” “gun control now” and “the people united will never be divided.”

“I felt it in the auditorium, I felt that they wanted to do more, to stand up, to say something,” Burke said. “As we can see, young people have so much energy and these moments inspire them and they carry that energy into work to join initiatives and all kind of different ways that they need to come at this issue. They don’t need leadership from adults, they need guidance from adults; they are their own leaders.”

She said there are various ways young people can engage in civil protest, ranging from organizing rallies and walkouts to writing letters to legislators. Burke believes the momentum the students created during the march will carry over into action. “My message to them is to make sure you get involved in some kind of way. They need to harness that power that they felt, standing up and fighting back and raising their voices,” she said. “We all have a part to play, every way that you’re involved counts. And I think that these kids will.”

Five students also spoke at the school assembly, honoring the memories of the Parkland victims while encouraging their fellow peers to engage in civic involvement, calling for action in regards to gun violence. One student called for the ban on assault rifles and a limit on magazine purchases, in addition to raising the age to be able to purchase a gun. Other students advocated for more protests and demonstrations in the form of letter writing to government officials and participating in activism rallies.

“You can have your voices be heard. You don’t have to sit still,” Burke said. “You can stand up and say what you want to say and this is the moment to do it because the country is listening. The country is listing to young people in a way that they haven’t listened in a long time.”

Many students plan to attend the March For Our Lives rally on March 24, a movement that demands an end to gun violence and mass shootings in schools.

“Today we wear orange with pride and are ready to fight,” student Abby Mendez proclaimed. “The time for change is now.”