WAIMEA — Following a nationwide school walkout last Wednesday, anticipation has mounted among North Hawaii students who want to further voice their concerns about school shootings and gun control.
Riley Herendeen, a Parker School senior, is leading Waimea’s March For Your Lives event this Saturday. Beginning at 10 a.m., several hundred children and adults from throughout the region are expected to join the group walk from Church Row to Waimea Park.
“After watching the news and being on social media, I saw all of these intelligent, bright and hopeful students from around the United States creating these marches in their areas,” Herendeen said. “After the Florida shooting it became more real to me. I realized that this isn’t just a problem that we as students can forget about in a week and move on. This is something that affects millions of students, teachers and families from around the world.”
The Feb. 14 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida was one of at least five U.S. school shootings so far this year.
“That really inspired me to make a change in my own community and take after students like Emma Gonzalez in the fight for gun control,” Herendeen said, who also serves as her high school’s student body president. “I thought to myself, ‘If thousands can march on Washington to fight for gun control and background checks, then so can we in our small town in Waimea.’ Our generation are the ones who will make this change and prevent gun related deaths.”
She added that one of the main reasons she decided to organize the Waimea march was a lack of discussion at her school soon after the Florida shooting.
“I want students to know that what happened in Florida could happen to us at any moment,” Herendeen said. “This is something that needs to be taken more seriously and we have to advocate for our safety as students.”
To educate her student body, she was permitted to give a presentation March 5 at Parker School, and has created a March For Our Lives Waimea Facebook page and an Instagram page that students, parents and teachers can follow.
Herendeen has found support outside the classroom from North Hawaii Action Network to help organize Saturday’s event.
“They are supplying us with snacks, water and sign making materials for the event,” she said. “There will be voting registration forms also available so students who are turning 18 can start thinking about voting. My hope is that anyone, any age, will join us. This is a big deal. We should secure gun safety laws and make it harder for a 17-year-old to obtain an AK-47. This is not a march about no guns, this is a march about creating stricter gun laws so assault rifles are not placed in the hands of the wrong people.”
Other Parker School students supporting Herendeen’s efforts are seniors Haley Spitz, Lucy Callendar and Mathias Magliorini.
“No more silence. No more ‘it’s not time’ to fix loose gun laws,” Spitz said. “We as students want our schools to be safer. We want change.”
Callendar commented, “I think that though this issue affects students greatly, we often don’t get a say when it comes to reforming outdated laws and creating new restrictions to protect us. Not enough is being done to end the pattern of gun violence.”
Magliorini added, “This is an exciting time for high school students across the county. The younger generations finally have a collective voice to express their opinions.”
Herendeen has also connected with Hawaii Preparatory Academy students and others at Kealakehe High School in Kona.
“I hope that we get at least 200 people to join us in Waimea on March 24. Waimea is a small town, but if we can get 200 students, parents and teachers we can make a big difference,” she said. “I don’t want students to fear going to school because they may be shot at any moment. Let’s show Congress that we may be a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, but we can make a big impact.”
March for Your Life participants are suggested to wear orange. In the state of Hawaii and most other states, hunters are required or strongly encouraged to wear “blaze orange” garments while hunting to prevent accidental shootings.
In addition to students, Herendeen has felt support from her parents.
“They are excited for me. Although they never suggested that I organize something like this, when I told them about what I was doing all they could say was how proud they were that I am standing up for what I believe in,” she said.
In addition to walking in Saturday’s event, Herendeen feels more residents need to share their concerns with Congress.
“Send Congress a message now,” she said. “Say that you demand stricter gun laws and background checks. Last week, Oregon obtained stricter gun codes and so did Florida. It’s time for every state in America to do the same. Don’t let the National Rifle Association dictate these laws.”
Info: Go to www.facebook.com/events/2029550720666269/ or on Instagram at @marchforourliveswaimea.