Students from Baltimore, as well as young people who attended a rally in Chicago, were vocal on Saturday about the need for steps to reduce gun violence, much in the same way as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a gunman killed 17 people last month. But they had a different idea of the problem.
Destini Philpot, another student at Baltimore City College, was joined on Saturday in Washington by Carrie Zaremba, a student at the Friends School of Baltimore, a predominantly white Quaker institution. The two said they had helped organize a citywide walkout this month that involved both public and private schools.
“It shouldn’t take a mass shooting in a predominantly white area like Parkland to start caring about gun violence,” Ms. Zaremba said.
Ms. Philpot said that many of those at the rally were thinking of gun violence in the only way they knew how: as mass shootings.
“When they talk about gun violence, they’re talking about schools,” she said.
Private donors paid for 60 buses that carried around 3,000 Baltimore students to the Washington event. Some Baltimore organizers skipped their city’s satellite march to attend the one in the capital, hoping to reach an audience largely unfamiliar with the kind of violence that visits them with gruesome regularity.
One of those organizers, Erricka Bridgeford, has helped work on a campaign called Baltimore Ceasefire, which holds quarterly “cease-fire” weekends that call for a stop to killings for a three-day period.
On Saturday, she recalled what had brought her to Washington: the lasting agony from losing her brother, stepson and friends to gun violence.
“I’ve seen dead bodies and blood,” she said. “These are things you never recover from. You learn how to live your life differently, because the air looks different once you experience that kind of trauma. I have to do something with the pain. I don’t want to be a prisoner to it.”
Ms. Bridgeford said shootings were a never-ending feature of life in her Baltimore neighborhood.
“There’s no such thing as post-traumatic stress in a lot of communities in America, because there’s no ‘post,’” she said. “You don’t get a chance to experience the aftermath before there’s another trauma because of gun violence.”
One of the students walking with Ms. Bridgeford was Shanika Walker, who attends the Excel Academy at Francis M. Wood High School in Baltimore, which recently lost seven students to homicide in 15 months.
“Only the scared people have guns, and they kill people they’re scared of,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear.”
On Chicago’s Near West Side on Saturday, just a few miles from neighborhoods where shootings are common, thousands filled Union Park to protest a problem just as local.
Many came to the rally bearing personal stories of tragedy and loss, years of frustration with unchanged gun laws and hope replenished by recent student-led activism.
“We have been fighting for a long, long time,” said Maria Pike, whose son, Ricky, 24, was shot to death in 2012. “And their voice is a fresh voice, is a true voice, is a transparent voice. And it comes from the heart.”
Speaker after speaker at the Chicago rally mentioned relatives or classmates who had been wounded or killed in shootings, frustrated that past calls to action had not led to change.
“Chicago has been plagued with gun violence way before the Parkland shooting,” said Juan Reyes, a high school student. “Suddenly, people are talking about students not feeling safe in schools. But in reality, students in our city’s South and West Sides have never felt safe.”
One high school student, Denzel Russell, told the crowd, “I have watched one of my friends get murdered while we were playing on the basketball court. That experience had me frozen and speechless.”
Mr. Russell added: “We can come together for a march. But are we willing to come together to take action?”
Emerson Toomey, 17, who helped organize the Chicago march, said her mother was grazed by a bullet in a drive-by shooting on the North Side of the city.
“It’s more about the journey to school for some kids than it is about the actual day at school,” she said.
But for the teachers who believe they must now think as much about school shootings as they do about urban gun violence, Saturday’s rallies in Washington and Chicago felt like the meeting of two threats, now inseparable.
“I see the look on the students’ faces,” said Jeremy McConnell, a special education teacher at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Baltimore. “They come from these communities. They come from these families that engage in this kind of violence. They might be a sibling or neighbor removed.”
“They know gun violence is real. They see it in the streets,” added Mr. McConnell, who, as the voice behind public address announcements at the school, reminds students to be vigilant after news of shootings in Baltimore and across the country. “But they haven’t seen it in school. They think any day now it’s coming here.”
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