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March 27, 2018 > School safety, gun violence spark dialogue at town hall meeting

School safety, gun violence spark dialogue at town hall meeting

Submitted By Alameda County Office of Education

Joining the national dialogue on school safety and gun violence, almost 200 high school students, community leaders, educators and media gathered on March 12 at Newark Memorial High SchoolÕs gymnasium for a Town Hall forum that none will soon forget.

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was the headliner at the event organized by Congressman Ro Khanna, D-District 17, to engage with students on issues of school safety, gun violence and youth activism. But it was 20-year-old Matt Deitsch who spoke directly to students about their need to speak out on gun control.

Deitsch traveled from Parkland, Florida to Newark representing the Parkland students who are organizing the national March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington D.C. and cities and communities around the country. DeitschÕs two younger siblings were hiding in their classrooms at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14 as a gunman killed 17 people.

Deitsch encouraged students, who came to the forum from around southern Alameda County, to register to vote, get involved and use their voices to help reduce gun violence and strengthen gun laws. ÒThis isnÕt a left issue or a right issue. ItÕs about saving innocent lives,Ó Deitsch said

The Newark event had an impact, not only on the students who filled the seats on the gymnasium floor, but on the educational leaders who came to support students as they seek to elevate their voices.

Alameda County Superintendent of Schools L. Karen Monroe attended along with Newark Unified Superintendent Patrick Sanchez, Newark School Board Trustees and local elected officials. Superintendent Monroe saw parallels to the Alameda County Office of Education (ACOE) "Youth Action" initiative, which began in 2017 and has offered students throughout the county the opportunity to develop their skills in civic engagement and leadership.

ÒAt this critical moment in time, the voices of our students are coming through loud and clear as they speak up and out for the change they want to see," said Superintendent Monroe. "MondayÕs town hall in Newark, as well as the student-led walkouts and marches to come, highlight the need for us all to listen and engage wherever we can to make way for their advocacy and leadership. We appreciate Congressman Khanna and Newark Unified for providing the opportunity for such an important dialogue.Ó

Kerr, who leads the two-time NBA Champion Warriors, talked to students about his own experience with gun violence when his father Malcolm, the president of the American University of Beirut, was killed in a terrorist attack in Lebanon in 1984 when Kerr was a freshman in college.

ÒI know how the people in Parkland feel,Ó said Kerr. ÒItÕs awful. ItÕs devastating. ItÕs horrifying. This is pretty simple. LetÕs see if we can do something about it.Ó

Students asked questions of Kerr, Deitsch, and Khanna for nearly an hour, touching on topics such as voter registration, current gun laws, background checks, the concept of arming teachers, the influence of special interests and mental health.

ÒIf we can get more young people in this district and around the country to demand change, something can happen,Ó Khanna said. ÒThatÕs why I called Coach Kerr to talk to these kids about what they can do to make a difference.Ó

Kerr said he is inspired by the voices of the young people who have emerged following the Parkland shooting. ÒThe old guys aren't going to be able to do it. It's the next generation. It's the youth. You guys are going to do it,Ó Kerr said. ÒIt feels real. For the first time in my life, I feel thereÕs a movement happening.Ó

Deitsch, meanwhile, encouraged students to stay focused. ÒYou canÕt march every day, and you canÕt vote every day, but you can learn every day,Ó Deitsch said. ÒBe the most educated in the debate.Ó

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