By Alexa Epitropoulos | [email protected]
Just a week before the national March for Our Lives
event, which was held Saturday in Washington D.C.,
two Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy moms saw an opportunity.
Mary Ritley-White, the mother of third and fifth grade students at Lyles-Crouch, and Gina White (no relation), mother of a fourth grade student at Lyles-Crouch, had
been considering attending the national march. Both have young children and traveling into the District with them in the anticipated huge crowds would have been logistically difficult. But they still wanted to give them an outlet to voice their concerns.
“We had been debating, back and forth, going downtown for the march. It was Monday or Tuesday morning and I hademailed a friend of mine and said, ‘What do you think of trying to organize something local?’” Ritley-White said. “We wanted to get something organized, something small, for the younger kids to have a voice and an opportunity to be heard.”
A local event came together through the efforts of White, Ritley-White and fellow parents of Alexandria City Public Schools students.
Ritley-White created a Facebook event and the interest
surpassed the two women’s initial expectations.
“It started as just, we created a Facebook page and started sharing it. At first, we thought maybe it would be just our two families and we were like ‘We’ve got this, this is going to be great,’” White said. “It just kept growing and growing. It was cool because people were there from as far away as Baltimore who didn’t want to attend the D.C. one or [who] have small children, like we do. They wanted to be part of something. We had people from all over just wanting to come for the neighborhood feeling.”
Children were encouraged to make their own signs, which they were able to do ahead of time on Friday afternoon at Hooray for Books and the morning of the walk at Lyles-Crouch. White and Ritley-White received help from
Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which dropped off signs, and from fellow parents, who donated orange ribbons, stickers and other sign decorations.
“It was very grassroots,” White said. “The kids were showing up and Mary is the one who organized this whole thing, did all the back end [work], all the things possible to make this happen, bringing the material to make these signs. … I’ve never done anything like this before, and I felt really prepared because everyone came together.”
The local walk began at 10 a.m. on Saturday, starting at Lyles-Crouch and then heading down St. Asaph Street,
King Street and stopping at the Alexandria Courthouse, where students spoke on the steps.
“The kids all stood on the stage, surrounded by the adults
and had a platform to speak and share their concerns and ideas. They stood there looking out at us and you could tell they felt proud, they felt listened to. They were looking at 200 adults who were doing nothing but cheering them on, taking their time – just listening,” White said.
The group then proceeded down King Street, turned on Union Street and went through the Wilkes Street tunnel before ending at Lyles Crouch. The two estimate that
between 225 and 250 people attended the event, with students coming from Lyles Crouch, George Mason Elementary School and Mount Vernon Community School, among others.
Former Mayor Bill Euille and members of the Alexandria Police Department and Alexandria Sheriff’s Department also attended the event. White and Ritley-White said the goal was simply to give children an outlet and the opportunity to lead – something, they said, the event accomplished.
“For me, I thought it was a great opportunity to empower the kids and when I look back, I think – we really allowed these children to take action and, as opposed to sitting back and blaming and judging and being a victim, we said ‘You actually have a voice.’” White said. “I don’t know what the change is going to be, but you can be part of the conversation.”
“In our world, we’re dealing with little kids and I wish that I could protect my children from all the news, but it’s kind of to the point where we can’t anymore. That fear exists in them and I think what we wanted is something where they could have their fears and concerns addressed, where we could listen to them,” Ritley-White said. “This offered
that. I was really proud of the turnout, the fact that we had a lot of kids, the fact they were able to speak.”