KALAMAZOO, Mich. — A couple of times a week, principal Valerie Boggan gets on the intercom and delivers a positive message to her students at Kalamazoo Central High School. When Boggan received a letter from former President Barack Obama in her email late Sunday night, she knew exactly what to share the next morning.
“I’m going to read the letter from our former president because our students they need a feel good moment,” said Boggan during an interview at the school. “Our staff need to be uplifted.”
She began reading ‘Dear Kalamazoo Central High, I have great memories of my visit back in 2010, so I just wanted to write a quick note to say how proud I am of your leadership in the aftermath of the Florida Shootings.’
The former president was the commencement speaker back then. Senior Jenna Bowker wasn't a student at the time. But she was excited when she heard the letter.
“When I found out, I actually went in my car and screamed for a little bit,” said Bowker. “It just shows what we’re doing is spurring change. We’re getting noticed this time.”
Bowker was one of the original eight students who created the petition Students Fighting Guns Since Adults Won't. She said they were inspired to do it when they watched the videos of the shootings — from what happened inside Marjory Stonemason Douglas High School — during their AP Comparative Government class.
“It was just shocking to see how similar it was to our school,” said senior Jackson Henning who also created the petition. “That easily could’ve been Kalamazoo Central. So we were like ‘You know what? We have to do something.’”
Within days of the shooting that claimed 17 lives, the students posted the petition on Twitter. As of Wednesday, it's garnered over 212,000 signatures.
“At first we just meant for it to be a way for students like me who can’t vote and just to get our voices out there, to make our legislators and our representatives see that we are here,” said senior and organizer Talia Edmonds. “It blew up a lot bigger than we ever thought.”
Edmonds and Bowker spoke about the petition at a rally in the state’s capitol a week after the Parkland shootings. They spoke to dozens of people, including local politicians, about gun reform and the importance of voting considering they can’t, yet.
“We’re calling for change and we’re not going to stop until change happens,” said Edmonds. “I think that’s something else that pushed are movement forward.”
The movement continues on March 14, they said. That day, the students are planning to participate in the nationwide walkout with other schools across the country, including all Kalamazoo Public Schools.
“It gives a chance for every kid, even though they might’ve not been there to make the petition, but to be a part of something,” said senior Morgan Dantzler. “They can just walk or they can come and make signs.”
The students will walk out for different reasons, they said. Some will walk out in support of the students at MSD in Parkland. Others because they’ve been touched by gun violence in their own communities. Nonetheless, they said, this is not a pass to get out of class.
“They can start out with the wrong intentions,” said senior Lenzy Bell. “But seeing everything that's going on, all the peoples that’s there for the right reason, that it’ll kind of affect them a little bit and then they’ll really be there for the right reasons.”
Principal Boggan said she’ll be standing with them. She, like many teachers, calls them ‘world changer’s every day because that’s who she believes they are. She’s proud of them and wants to help them make a difference.
“I recognize that, in their lifetime, they have never known a world without school shootings,” she said, repeating what a student once told her. “So this is a different world and they get to make it a better world.”