By Tiffany Rogers | Contributor
On Feb. 14, 2018, in 2017's "Florida's Safest Town," 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz fatally shot 14 students and three faculty members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD). In six minutes and 20 seconds, with an AR-15, the community of Parkland - my home - would never be the same.
Before Feb. 14, names such as Alex Wind, Cameron Kasky and Sofie Whitney had years of memories attached to them, mainly revolving around the theatre camp we all attended. Before Feb. 14, Douglas was just a place where my friends went to school and that I frequented for plays, fundraisers and thespian festivals. But on that Wednesday, around 2:30 p.m. when I opened Twitter, I became quickly confused and concerned. My first thoughts were "Who brought something to school that looked like a gun?" and "It must just be a threat," but sadly, I was wrong.
Over the next few hours, I texted everyone I knew that was stuck inside the school, tearfully called my mom and Douglas alumni and prayed that the shooter would be caught. The day designed for love and appreciation morphed into a day of death and tragedy. But, through this tragedy, I saw my friends and those I would soon know emerge with strong voices of change, passion and the drive to make sure this would happen #NeverAgain. Names such as David Hogg, Emma Gonzalez and my very own friend Cameron Kasky were plastered across headlines, receiving both praise and hate from the American people. Rumors that these students were "crisis actors" began to circulate, and while "thoughts and prayers" were given by politicians and our President, people began to forget about the Parkland shooting, but not for long.
Just days after the Parkland shooting, students from Douglas organized a movement called "March for Our Lives" that would take place on March 24. The movement included a march in Washington D.C. along with what would soon be 800 marches across the globe. The purpose of the march revolved around three main things: education on gun violence statistics for mass shootings and in communities like Chicago and Baltimore, stricter gun control and proper background checks and finally, getting assault weapons such as the AR-15 off the streets.
I was lucky enough to head to Washington D.C. to participate in the March for Our Lives, and was faced with beauty and torment all in one place. Arriving three hours before the event, I had the ability to meet people standing around me, some who traveled across the country to show their support.
We stood for hours, waiting for the incredible lineup of speakers and artists, including Lin Manuel Miranda and Ben Platt, Miley Cyrus and Zion Kelly. When the event began, and the 800,000+ of us shouted, cried and stood together in power, it was a feeling like none other. Speakers such as 11-year-old Naomi Wadler and 9-year-old Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s granddaughter, spoke with eloquence and power, calling for change, and had no intention of making people comfortable with the current state of our country.
Sam Fuentes, a survivor of the shooting, performed an original poem. She vomited halfway through due to emotion, continued the poem and then conducted us in singing "Happy Birthday" for Nicholas Dworet, a victim who would've been 18 that day. Emma Gonzalez stood silently for six minutes and 20 seconds to show us how long those minutes felt.
Though the march ended, the movement has not. Students from MSD joined with students in inner-city schools are continuing to speak out against gun violence, and do their part to change the world. March 24 was not the end, it was the beginning.