Church members lend support

Political activism is new to Florida teens, but supported by many in local churches.

BY KATHY L. GILBERT (UMNS) | February 24, 2018

A girl holds a sign reflecting the urgency of the demand for a change in gun laws at a rally of students and adults at the Tallahassee, FL, state capitol on Feb. 21.
Credit: Rev. Andy Oliver/UMNS

Survivors of the latest school shooting are “formidable” and will be “change agents,” said an elementary school teacher who accompanied 95 students as they faced Florida lawmakers to demand an end to the killings.

“They are not playing by political rules because they don’t know political rules. They have data in their heads and passion in their hearts,” said Catherine Kuhns, a fourth-grade teacher at Country Hills Elementary who went on the Feb. 21 trip to Tallahassee, the state capital. The elementary school is just a quarter of a mile from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Many of the teenagers at the high school were first little ones in her classroom, explained Kuhns, a member of First Church in nearby Coral Springs.

“I will never be able to impart to anyone how amazing these kids were. They are unshakeable, they are passionate, they have done their homework.”

Several pastors and laity were at the Tallahassee rally on Feb. 21.

“It was the student’s moment,” said the Rev. Andy Oliver, pastor of Allendale United Methodist Church, Saint Petersburg, FL, who also attended the Tallahassee rally. When religious leaders spoke, he said they told Florida legislators, “When you don’t allow debate on a bill, when you drop responsibility to take care of the gun problem, you are not doing the will of God.”

Oliver said he felt compelled to support the thousands of students who attended the rally.

Speaking of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students, he said, “I think it is incredible in their moment of grief when they have every excuse in the world to stay under the covers — which is where I would be — they are out in public spotlight speaking and remembering their friends. Each one was so incredible.”

On Feb. 14, those students were attending school as they would on any ordinary day when police said a 19-year-old former student used an AR-15-style rifle to kill 17 people and wound 14 more. The students have changed from typical high schoolers to advocates for societal change, who are determined to end school shootings.

Kuhns chaperoned a group of nine young people.

“Within this group of nine, one lost a best friend, one watched a teacher shot, one witnessed three classmates take fatal bullets. One was in panic mode because she could not reach her sister in the freshman building. That sister survived, but was the one who saw three classmates shot before her eyes. Each lost friends and faith in current laws. Each students' lives will never be the same,” Kuhns wrote in a Facebook post.

Kuhns said at one point one of the officials asked, “How many school shootings have we had this year?” Then he added, “We haven’t had that many.”

One of the students spoke up, she noted, and responded, “We are averaging one school shooting a week in 2018. Twenty-seven individuals have died this year alone, 17 have come from my school.”

“They were very respectful, but they corrected them (the lawmakers),” Kuhns said.

Kuhns will be retiring after this year and she has found her next life’s passion.

“I am so sick of this violence,” she said. “I am over this, over man’s inhumanity over man, I am just over it. When it comes breathing down your neck it is just too dang close.”

About the author: Kathy L. Gilbert is a multimedia report for the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).

A version of this article appeared on Website of The United Methodist Church.

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