DeKalb community rallies to ‘be the change’ for gun control during March For Our Lives

Protesters chant as they march south on Sycamore Road in DeKalb Saturday, June 11, 2022, during a March For Our Lives event which kicked off at Hopkins Park in DeKalb. The March For Our Lives initiative advocates for, among other things, an end to gun violence, updated gun control legislation and policy targeting gun lobbyists.

DeKALB – Energy was high in Hopkins Park Saturday morning, as almost 200 people gathered with handmade signs to march in protest of gun violence weeks after a Texas mass shooting at an elementary school.

The march began at the Band Shell at Hopkins Park, 1403 Sycamore Road in DeKalb. The march was one of many expected throughout the country Saturday in collaboration with the March For Our Lives nationwide initiative, which advocates among other things for an end to gun violence, updated gun control legislation and policy targeting gun lobbyists. On May 24, 19 fourth graders and two teachers were gunned down in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the massacre acting as a catalyst for Saturday’s nationwide marches.

The shooting left local educators with an urge to organize, too.

Longtime special education teacher at Littlejohn Elementary School in DeKalb School District 428 Mary Lynn Buckner and area business owner and hair stylist Renae Stevenson Lindenmayer organized the march. The pair welcomed those in attendance Saturday with a call to action.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer, we have to take action now,” Lindenmayer said, addressing the crowd before marching. “We cannot let these deaths be in vain, let’s honor these children and make real changes.”

The March For Our Lives organization was started in 2018 by survivors of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. During the Feb. 14, 2018, Florida high school shooting, a 19-year-old former student of the school murdered 17 people and injured 17 others. The Florida shooting occurred exactly 10 years after a former Northern Illinois University student entered Cole Hall on NIU campus in DeKalb and fatally shot five students, injuring 17 others, before shooting himself.

Among its policy priorities, the March For Our Lives organization advocates for an end to what it calls gun glorification, political apathy, poverty, armed supremacy and mental health crises. The organization also asks for a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, legislative changes to who can own a gun and a national gun buy-back program.

As Buckner described having to teach her students how to hide in a bathroom stall if an intruder came into her elementary school, the crowd’s energy in DeKalb shifted into a somber silence.

“Our discomfort having these conversations is far less than our discomfort if there was an active shooter locally,” Lindenmayer said.

The DeKalb County League of Women Voters set up a booth at the bandshell to provide information on voter registration encourage participants to make their demands at the ballot box. DeKalb Police Chief David Byrd attended with other police officers.

Northern Illinois University student Logan Sperling spoke before the march, urging participants to continue the conversation about gun control.

“It is important to make sure this isn’t just a today thing,” Sperling said. “Be the change and be annoying.”

Sperling’s sign invited people to donate to national nonprofit Everytown’s gun safety action fund. Everytown is a gun violence protection organization aimed at reforming gun control laws and enforcing more strict regulations and requirements for gun owners.

Marchers headed out of the Band Shell in Hopkins Park toward Sycamore Road, then north on the DeKalb nature trial to Greenwood Acres Drive and back.

Participants held signs that brandished phrases like “Bullets are not school supplies,” and “Gun reform now,” while marching. Others read, “Protect our kids, not our gun” and “How many more.”

Several drivers on Sycamore Road blared their horns and waved in support of those marching Saturday.

Area social worker Rocio Garcia marched with Clinton Rosette Middle School teachers Rachel Honeyman and Bethany Ray. The three marched side-by-side while Ray pushed her 3-year-old daughter, Emma, in a stroller.

“She’s one of the youngest, but she has the most passion,” Ray said, about her daughter.

“As teachers, we are a part of this,” Honeyman said. “We’re here to support the kids.”

Improved school safety measures and increased gun control laws were some of the changes Garcia, Honeyman and Ray hoped to see.

DeKalb elementary school teacher Kristina Karkavatzos marched with her daughter Oraya. Karkavatzos said she wants to see the law changed regarding who can buy assault rifles and large capacity magazines.

“Having a middle school-aged daughter makes this personal for me,” said Karkavatzos. “Nobody needs to be hunting with an assault rifle.”

Emily Cavazos of DeKalb marched with her 7-year-old daughter Mora, who goes to Founders Elementary in DeKalb.

“I would like to see people to show up and vote to make a change after this,” Cavazos said. “Hopefully, people will see that this is an important issue to a lot of people.”

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