Students will walk out of schools to protest gun violence on Wednesday's one-month anniversary of the Florida school massacre. Others will "walk up" to those who need care, or "walk in" to spread "positivity" for 17 days.
The variety of potential activities highlights the traditional interplay of activism and action in struggles for justice and peace.
The walkout teaches well-intentioned students they can change things for the good by drawing attention to themselves and expressing a collective grievance.
It is a valid lesson.
Whether advocating for minorities, women, the LGBT community, or unborn babies, generations of civil rights marches have brought about constructive change by highlighting causes.
More significant than marches are individuals and groups throughout history who took direct action to resolve injustice. An exhaustive list could fill library shelves, but a few examples include:
- Harriet Tubman escapes slavery and risks her life in 13 missions to rescue slaves and deliver them to safe houses known as the Underground Railroad.
- William Wilberforce ends British slavery by heading the parliamentary campaign to pass the Slave Trade Act of 1807.
- Kansas railroad worker and part-timer preacher Oliver Brown convinces the U.S. Supreme Court to free his daughter and others from segregation in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education.
- Mother Teresa establishes homes for hands-on care for patients with AIDS, leprosy, tuberculosis, hunger, illiteracy, and more.
No one better understood the interconnection of activism and action than Martin Luther King Jr., the undisputed leader of civil rights protests.
King led the Selma to Montgomery marches in Alabama, and several of other demonstrations, to protest segregation and racism. Meanwhile, he described his activism as less significant than his full-time job: routine preaching of the gospel to individuals and small groups.
"All that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry," King explained in Chicago in 1967. "...And what I'm doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man."
As students "walk up" or "walk in," they nurture the spiritual and mental state of the whole person. They promote inclusion of those who feel left in the dark, using compassion to conquer rejection and despair.
Kelly Guest explains the "walk up" alternative in an article going viral on social media. Guest — the mother of 10, a former nun and middle school teacher — urges students to say something nice to 14 schoolmates and three adults to commemorate the 17 shot dead inside Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
"Walk up to the kid who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group," Guest wrote. "Walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her, smile and say hi. Walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing. Walk up to your teachers and thank them. Walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know her: you may be surprised at how much you have in common. Build on that foundation instead of casting stones."
Denver High School Teacher Stacey Hervey, writing for WeAreTeachers.com, encourages "walking in" instead of walking out.
Hervey was a victim advocate for the Boulder Police Department during the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, and assisted parents on the campus as they discovered their children had died inside the school.
Hervey's students talked about the walkout,and chose "to do something more."
"The previous week we had studied how students are recruited into extremist groups, and they realized that school shooters exhibit many of the same characteristics, including being disenfranchised from their peers," Hervey explains.
"My students realized that social media bullying is prevalent and that it is so easy to say something you wouldn't say in person. And thus, their 'walk in' movement was born — Positive Ways 17 Days."
"Walk in" students ask peers to abandon negative activity and "promote positivity."
Hervey's students have social media campaigns, wristbands and cards to promote the message.
They are developing a professional course for teachers, with "speakers from the FBI, the attorney general's office, specialists trained to look for the warning signs that a school shooting might occur, and experts who specifically work with youth."
In pursuit of safety and peace, we can embrace the wisdom of King — a man who marched, acted and spread a message of truth.
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that," he said "Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Spread the light of love, whether walking out, walking up, or walking in.