Us Kids: New Documentary Chronicles Voices of Youth Activists Following Parkland Massacre
The mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine's Day 2018 launched a youth movement long in the making to push for solutions to gun violence.
(Watch the film's trailer, above.)
The film was directed by Kim A. Snyder, whose 2016 film, Newtown, followed grieving parents after a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012.
Her new film follows a movement that started with student survivors of the Parkland shooting — and came to include a wide coalition of young people across the world.
That coalition staged the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. just five weeks after the Parkland massacre, then launched a cross-country caravan to engage local communities in an effort to change gun laws.
Alex King, of Chicago, was 7 years old when two men shot his uncle to death. King was an uncle himself when his nephew was shot dead. At age 17 and a student at Chicago’s North Lawndale College Prep, he joined those who spoke from the podium in Washington, D.C.
"The world may be in bad shape but there are good groups of people trying to help better their communities," King, now 20, tells PEOPLE in an email. "Those people should give you hope."
Despite a year in which the coronavirus and presidential politics took center stage, "as long as gun violence is in the conversation, keep talking," says King, a leader with GoodKids MadCity, a Chicago-based nonprofit that describes its purpose as "Black and Brown young people united in fighting to end violence in our cities."
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"The marches and protests this summer have shed more light on the racial injustices in our world showing us that the fight is not over," he says. "I encourage everyone to vote. If you can't vote, educate. If you can't educate, then learn for yourself until you can educate others that there's something for everyone to do."
Student Emma Gonzalez became one of Parkland's most prominent voices after the shooting. At the Washington, D.C., rally, she memorably stood silent for most of her time on stage as a timer counted the 6 minutes and 20 seconds it took the gunman to complete his carnage.
"March for Our Lives was started by an almost entirely white group of young people, coming from one affluent area, but we made sure that changed as time went on," she tells PEOPLE in an email. "Some of our most vocal and involved leaders in the organization are people of color from many different backgrounds who want to end gun violence in all communities."
In face-to-face conversations with gun owners, the young activists allayed fears that responsible gun laws would come at the expense of Second Amendment rights.
"We would talk to people who were concerned about having their guns taken away, and we would ask them if they were responsible gun owners, and if they locked up their guns from their kids and if they had permits for each of them," Gonzalez says.
"They would say 'yes' to all of the above, and we would say, 'Okay, cool, then this has absolutely nothing to do with you. We want all of the responsible gun ownership practices that you take for granted to become federally mandated.' ... [W]e are just advocating for the laws of this country to reflect the damage that is done by guns."
"March for Our Lives never stopped," she adds. "Sometimes there will be more media attention, and sometimes there will be more political demonstrations, but there's always meetings, phone calls, planning happening ... . March will continue to do the work until gun violence is no longer plaguing our country."