A Dialogue on Youth Leadership

Students explore the connections between young people in Florida campaigning for gun reform and youth leaders in Black Lives Matter – and consider why the media has focused so much less attention on the latter.



Display the photos below (or see this set of pdf handouts).

Invite students to look closely at the photos then discuss: 

  • What are these photos of?
  • What do you notice about the young people in these photos?
  • What are they marching for/against?
  • Where is the overlap in what these students are marching for/against?


Young activists march for black lives



Marching for gun control in Boston




Teen Activism:  Emma Gonzalez Tweets

Invite students to read the tweets below, which are also included in this handout (Handout 1). 

Explain that the handout includes a set of tweets by Emma Gonzalez, a student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Gonzalez and her classmates have become activists in the fight to stop gun violence following a shooting at their school that killed 17 people.


Emma Gonzalez tweets

After they've read the tweets, ask students to discuss:

  • What stands out for you about these tweets?
  • What does Emma Gonzalez say about her own community in these tweets?
  • What does she say about Chicago?
  • How does she describe the meeting with the students from Chicago?
  • What does she say about the platform the Parkland students have established?


Teen Activism: Media Responses

Next, ask students to read Media Responses to Student Activism below, and also in the pdf handout (Handout 2).  Explain that this handout includes quotes from a variety of media sources about activism by the Parkland students and by young people who have been part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

After they’ve read the handout, ask students to turn to a partner, or meet in triads, to discuss  their thoughts and feelings about what they read.

Bring students back to the full group to share out what they discussed according to the following questions:

  1. What does the handout say about the student activists from Parkland, Florida?
  2. What are some of the words used to describe these young activists?
  3. What does the handout say about the young black activists who have been mobilizing?
  4. What are some of the words used to describe these young activists?
  5. What are the similarities/differences between these groups?  
  6. In what ways are the two groups connected?
  7. What is “the complicated” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors recommends we lean into [and explore]?
  8. How does this connect back to Emma’s tweets from before?



Media Responses to Student Activism

“The shooting massacre of 17 people … at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., not only reignited the debate over gun control but also launched a group of teenage activists.  Students from the school have given dozens of interviews, gained hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter and visited the White House and the Florida state Capitol. They’ve challenged senators and congressional representatives on live television and gone viral in videos of their pleas to prevent another slaughter.”  http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-na-parkland-student-activists-20180223-htmlstory.html


“Experts say the [Parkland] teens … are uniquely positioned to become the leading voices in the gun debate. This generation has grown up as native users of social media and have never known a time when there weren't mass shootings at schools. "This has happened in their community in their school. They’re given this window of opportunity to speak out for a generation that is tired of being unable to speak out against gun violence," …. The students are of the right age and era to articulate exactly how gun violence has affected them.” https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/how-parkland-survivors-became-advocates-gun-reform-n849596


“The students are smart, articulate, and direct in what they want: gun reform, or at least a country where schools are safer—and they're mobilizing … [using] social media. There have been efforts on Snapchat that track protests and walkouts. There have been teenagers connecting with each other through Twitter hashtags to present a unified front.” https://psmag.com/education/after-the-parkland-shooting-listen-to-the-teens 


For some black activists who have long been mobilizing around gun violence, the current wave of public attention and outrage over the issue is welcome. But it also invites the question of why there’s been comparatively little attention and outrage focused on the even more common reality of routine gun homicides in the country, which disproportionately affect communities of color, and specifically black Americans. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-lives-gun-violence-florida-shooting_us_5a8f1a11e4b00804dfe6a466


When “the young people of Black Lives Matter …. were protesting in … cities across America, much of the country didn’t bother to listen to their message. They were not embraced by the mainstream for their bravery, their determination or resolve to bring attention to reckless police killings that disproportionately impact young African-Americans. Some labeled them troublemakers, even terrorists. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/glanton/ct-met-florida-teens-black-lives-matter-dahleen-glanton-20180223-story.html


“I’m very impressed and inspired by what I’m seeing these students do. Fighting for gun control ― I take my hat off to them,” Cobe Williams, deputy director at Chicago-based gun violence prevention organization Cure Violence told HuffPost on Wednesday.  “I like what they’re doing, and we’re doing this on an everyday basis,” he said. “I applaud them, but we see this violence on an everyday basis. It could be one person or 24 people ― one person shot and killed is too many.” https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-lives-gun-violence-florida-shooting_us_5a8f1a11e4b00804dfe6a466


Prominent black organizers and public figures have ... noted the largely positive public response to the student activists from Parkland ― most of whom are not black and who attended school in a largely white, relatively affluent Florida suburb ― compared to the frequent vilification of young black activists protesting gun violence, particularly police shootings.  “It’s complicated, but I would encourage us to lean into [and explore] the complicated,” Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors said.  https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-lives-gun-violence-florida-shooting_us_5a8f1a11e4b00804dfe6a466




  • What is one wish that you have for youth activists from Parkland, FL, who are fighting gun violence?
  • What is one wish that you have for youth activists from Chicago who are fighting gun violence?