CEDAR RAPIDS — Washington High School students and staff in Cedar Rapids started to talk this week about ways to curb gun violence in their community.
Students have been invited to sign an anti-gun violence pledge and write testimonials about their experiences with gun violence, Principal Carlos Grant said.
During lunch Thursday, dozens of students signed a pledge to not bring a gun to school or use a gun to settle a dispute.
“I’m tired of seeing all this gun violence in my neighborhood,” Tyrique Woods, 15 said. “People need to put the guns down and just be friends.”
Students and staff will engage in a conversation about gun violence over the coming days, Grant said. The focus is in conjunction with the Day of National Concern, which began in 1996, and was Thursday this year.
“This shouldn’t start on Oct. 19 and end on Oct. 19,” Grant said.
Some students’ testimonials will be shared with the entire student body. Grant said he hopes the exercise gives students a safe outlet to share their experiences.
“I’m not confident we’ve created a space for kids to talk about this,” Grant said.
“What’s not healthy is to hold onto that trauma.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Many Washington High students knew the children involved in a string of recent shootings in Cedar Rapids.
“I feel like lately we’ve been having a lot of deaths,” D’essence Morris, 16, said. “If this was broadcast more, I feel like that could have been avoided.”
Thaddeus Paisar, school resource officer, said he hopes the events serve as a “reality check” for students.
“This is bringing the issue of gun violence to the forefront of students’ minds,” Paisar said. “Sometimes they forget there are juveniles who are using guns to settle disputes.”
In September, 13-year-old Ireshia Parks died after what police suspect was an accidental shooting in the 1500 block off Eighth Avenue SE. Two juveniles and an 18-year-old were arrested.
In March, Senquez Jackson, 15, was shot by a 13-year-old boy. A day later, Kanyauta Vesey-Keith, 16, shot Brandon Johnson, 21, and a 16-year-old during a fight.
In September 2015, Robert Humbles, then 14, shot and killed Aaron Richardson, 15.
“Sometimes it’s easy to remove yourself from that phenomenon when its not personal,” Grant said. “I want this to be an ongoing conversation with the ultimate objective of empowering students to be their own leaders.”