STA Students Rally to End Gun Violence

April 19, 2023

In the wake of rising local and national incidences of gun violence, students at St. Teresa’s Academy arranged an event to rally for change. At students’ request, we are sharing their story with the STA community. 

It’s nearing midday on campus, when students normally spend time with their advisory groups to celebrate birthdays and good news. Today was much different. 

Instead of celebrating, the St. Teresa’s Academy student body rallied at the center of campus in the Quad to raise awareness about gun violence and encourage action. Five seniors organized the rally to bring their classmates together and voice a collective concern about the seemingly endless rash of shootings in schools and communities.

Student leaders and speakers

STA students and speakers at rally to end gun violence

Hundreds of students attended the rally, some carrying signs adorned with anti-violence slogans and chanting for change. Others were more contemplative and quiet as they offered their prayers for an end to the violence and deaths in schools and elsewhere.

After STA President Dr. Siabhan May-Washington led the crowd in prayer, Amy Axtell from Moms Demand Action shared with students additional ways they can get involved. STA faculty member Robert Flynn then spoke to the crowd about friends and acquaintances he personally has lost through gun violence, sharing pictures and emotional stories about his experiences.

Each of the students responsible for bringing the rally together took her turn at the podium while the others in attendance listened intently, occasionally raising their voices in support of their STA sisters. 

Riyan Jones kicked off the student portion of the event, asking the crowd to join her in a moment of silence – one second for every mass shooting thus far in 2013. The crowd stood quietly in contemplation for three minutes.

Stella Hughes, another organizer, referenced the recent shooting of Ralph Yarl, a student at Staley High School in Kansas City, who was shot last week as he approached a residence to pick up his younger siblings. He mistakenly went to the wrong address and was gunned down as he approached the home. “This event has reignited a decades-long movement across the country, and even around the world,” said Hughes, “but it shouldn’t take something like this for change to happen and for people to get involved.” She continued, “We promise to act, together with young adults and people of all ages all over the country. And today, especially, we stand in solidarity with Ralph and his classmates at Staley, in addition to all victims of gun violence and those they hold dear.”

After student Ava Martinez made a call for solidarity, she elaborated on the importance of making change at the local level. “I might not be able to make a national change right now, but I can try to make local waves – ripples – with help from all of you,” she said.

“Do we want to be another generation to let injustice pass us by, or do we want to go down in history as a force for change?”

Ava Martinez, STA senior and rally co-organizer

Student organizer Annamarie Hotze was the next to address the crowd, citing lessons she’s learned at St. Teresa’s Academy and the role her education played in deciding to help lead today’s charge. “The most valuable lesson that I will take away from the education I have received here is that I deserve to be heard,” she said. “For four years, I have sat in religion class every day and learned about loving the dear neighbor. Part of this love is advocating for those who cannot stand up for themselves, such as the three nine-year-old children from Nashville, whose parents will never be able to hug them again.”

Alex Ward, the day’s final speaker, brought the rally to a close with a call for action. “When I look out at you all, I see a crowd of students who are more than capable of creating change,” she said, “and I invite you to take initiative when it comes to causes you care about.” Ward continued, “I know some people might say that protesting is disruptive, but let me ask you this: What’s more disruptive than a school shooting? Protesting is about creating a culture of standing up for what we believe in. We are showing we are willing to work for a better future for ourselves and for generations to come.”

The event concluded with students signing a letter (included below) to government officials urging them to take stronger steps to address gun violence. The crowd then continued with a march around the Quad while chanting for change.

This demonstration in support of a more just society follows the charism of STA’s founders, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who followed a path of loving unity and peace in our world. 

“As women committed to nonviolence and to building a world of unity and reconciliation, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet call for an end to gun violence in the United States of America.” – official statement from the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet

Letter from St. Teresa’s Academy Students to Legislators

To whom it may concern, 

On April 19, we, students at St. Teresa’s Academy, partook in a student-led rally to promote the end of gun violence on a national, state, and municipal level. We act in solidarity with the thousands of other protests and walkouts being held across the country in light of the several recent school shootings. We want it to be known that we will not be silenced, and we will not stop working until a change has been made. In no circumstance is it justified for a person to have to make the choice: education or life.

Our Catholic values tell us that it is our responsibility to protect human life and dignity. Catholic tradition preaches that dignity is only achieved if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met. Therefore, every person has a fundamental right to the things required for human decency. Every morning, parents across America drop their preschoolers off at school, unsure of if they will ever see them again. Living in this paralyzing fear is not, by any means, dignified. Our school upholds a mission of loving the dear neighbor. Part of this love is advocating for those who cannot stand up for themselves, such as the three nine year olds from Nashville, whose parents will never see them again. 

Although we are rooted in our Catholic faith, we will not stand for the dismissive approaches we have seen our government taking, and believe that reform, at this time, is more valuable than thoughts and prayers. Actions speak louder than words. Our actions today reflect the priorities and power of our generation. We are the generation of doers and of fighters, and we are a generation that will not back down until the fight is won. 

We stand in solidarity with our peers all over the nation who have been affected by gun violence, and in particular Ralph Yarl and his classmates, family, and friends. We call for justice for Ralph, who attends high school just like all of us, less than 25 miles from our own. 

It is our sincere hope that those with the power and position to do so act in support of our generation in the fight against gun violence, so that no more 3rd graders fear going to school, and no more 16-year-olds are shot trying to take their siblings home.

In solidarity and hope,

Annamarie Hotze, Stella Hughes, Riyan Jones, Ava Martinez, AJ Ward