NEWARK, NJ - SOMA Action Student Leadership Committee members organized a "Town Hall for Our Lives" in partnership with Essex County College, SOMA Action, and Moms Demand Action, on Saturday, April 7.
The Town Hall, which according to event materials, focused on sensible gun reform and ending gun violence in schools and communities, was the third event from the group, which also helped plan local school walkouts on March 14 as part of the National School Walkout, and rallies in South Orange and Maplewood before the March for Our Lives on March 24.
The program was one of many across the nation, according to organizers, and is a continuation of last month's March for Our Lives rallies that took place nationwide.
South Orange Maplewood School District students who organized the event included Phoebe Hill, Lilly Forman, Zoe Newman, Laila Gold and Claire Lipkin. SOMA Action members Shannon Cuttle and Jonah Wolff helped facilitate the event as well.
Elected officials and community members participating in the Town Hall included Congressman Donald Payne, Jr., Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, Dr. Akil Khalfani, director of the Essex County College Africana Institute, as well as Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca, Maplewood Deputy Mayor Frank McGehee, Maplewood Township Committee members Nancy Adams and Dean Dafis, and South Orange Village Trustees Deborah Davis Ford and Walter Clarke.
Jasey stated that the time has come that "enough is enough," and that the current level of gun violence reminded her of 1968 when Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated.
"The timing is right, Jasey said, "to keep the movement going and to listen to the young people. We need change."
Khalfani added that ‘the youth are pushing the envelope and have the ability to take the mantle... the adults need to get out of the way."
DeLuca explained Maplewood's "common sense gun laws," and said "we need to lobby the people in D.C. to pass federal laws, along with state and local ones."
"We need to continue to rally, march, hold hands, and fight for gun control," said DeLuca.
Davis Ford shared "we are here to support the initiative of the young leaders and get out of their way. We’re engaged for reasonable gun laws, outlawing automatic rifles, enhanced background checks like Australia has done."
"The leading cause of youth deaths is guns," said Davis Ford.
Payne said, "please follow the young people because the parents and grandparents have not done a very good job to solve these problems.”
Payne, who said he has tried for the past 6 years to get a bill passed to fund the buyback of guns at retail plus 25%, but that the Republican leadership would not even put the bill up for a vote.
"Let’s get behind the young people … tell me what to do!” said Payne.
The panelists and audience engaged in dialogue about the many aspects of gun control, including creating safety in and out of schools. Also explored were other topics, such as cyber bullying.
As the event came to a close, the consensus was that they needed to continue the dialogue to find solutions.
All photos courtesy of Carl Patterson of CP Photo Op Photography.