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SWFL Students March to Rep. Tom Rooney's Office

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Rachel Iacovone
/
WGCU
16-year-old Lianna Hubbard speaks into the megaphone on the steps of the Charlotte County courthouse alongside fellow Florida SouthWestern State College and Port Charlotte High School students.

Students across the country walked out of school Friday in remembrance of the victims of the Columbine shooting and all the victims of gun violence in the 19 years since.

In Southwest Florida, dozens gathered at the Charlotte County courthouse to demand stricter gun laws of their representatives, including U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, whose district office is in the building.

As the 10th toll rang out across campus, Lianna Hubbard faced the small group gathered under the bell tower. She took a deep breath and raised the megaphone to her face. It was ten o’clock. It was time. 

“Two months ago," Hubbard began, "17 children were gunned down in their classrooms in Parkland, Florida."

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Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
One of the National School Walkout signs on the Charlotte campus of Florida SouthWestern State College

Everyone nodded knowingly. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is only two and a half hours away, and moments before, the group learned of another school shooting, north in Ocala, about as far away as Parkland — or about as close. 

Hubbard was the Florida Southwestern State College student who organized the school walkout on the Charlotte campus. 

She’s dual-enrolled, meaning she’s technically also still in high school, but at 16 years old, she led the rally – like so many others of Generation Z – this time, from her college campus to the county courthouse. 

“Repeat after me," Hubbard cried. "Enough is enough!” 

The group walked nearly three miles, as Hubbard read out the names of victims of mass shootings on school campuses – beginning, on the 19th anniversary, with those who were killed in the Columbine shooting. 

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Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Lianna Hubbard leads the group from the Charlotte campus of FSW to the county courthouse.

When they arrived at the courthouse, a dozen students from Port Charlotte High School were waiting on the steps. Zakiyah Wilson was the only senior in the group. 

“I highly doubt they’ll suspend me," Wilson said. "I only have nine days left of school. But, they could tell me I can’t walk at graduation.” 

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Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Zakiyah Wilson stands at the back of the group of her peers, hoisting a sign above her head that reads, "Am I Next?"

Still, Wilson came out to support her peers. She said, as the eldest of five, its her responsibility to enact change when it comes to school security. She said she’s sick of living in fear for her younger siblings, especially when she already knows the pain of losing someone to gun violence. 

“Me and my stepdad were very close," Wilson said. “He got shot in his groin and, like, his leg, and one of his friends went to move him. And, they moved him too much, so he bled out.”

Wilson said he was the only father she’s ever really known, and she’s been without him for ten years now – even longer than he was in her life. With graduation around the corner, yet another milestone coming and going, it feels like it did then all over again. 

“Having that relationship with somebody and then losing them, it puts a strain on your heart, and I do," Wilson said. "I cry almost every other day about it.” 

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Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Port Charlotte High School junior Sabrina Salovitz switched signs with her friend, Zakiyah Wilson, to make sure "Am I Next?" was front and center. Salovitz, a self-proclaimed troublemaker, is the one who rallied the troops at her school where her mother also works as a teacher.

Wilson’s fellow marcher, Hubbard, argued that was why speaking up – sharing those stories of loss – was so important. When she raised her megaphone again, this time, she demanded the silence be broken.

“End gun violence!" Hubbard said. "No more silence! End gun violence!”

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Credit Rachel Iacovone / WGCU
Lianna Hubbard urges her peers in the crowd who cannot yet vote to preregister at the voter registration booth that's been set up near the courthouse.