Local leaders and community members joined Flagler Schools' students, staff and faculty for a march in Flagler Beach on March 2.
As the sun set, the voices rose.
“How strong?” shouted Tyler Perry, Flagler Palm Coast High School Student Government Association president, as he led the “Stand With Parkland” march from Wadsworth Park, over the State Road 100 bridge, to Veterans Park on Friday, March 2.
“Douglas strong!” replied the group of about 100 marchers made up of Flagler Schools’ students and faculty, as well as community members and local elected officials.
FPCHS students organized the “Stand With Parkland” march a few days after the the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 14. Matanzas High School students participated in the march, as well.
“We want to make sure that people don’t think this is a partisan thing,” Perry said. “It’s not a Democrat march. It’s not for gun safety. We’re not trying to strip away anyone’s rights here. This is about effecting local change and bringing everyone together.”
Leading up to the march, Perry and a few other students met with Superintendent James Tager on Tuesday, Feb. 27, to voice their concerns and ideas about school safety.
“Some things we talked about with (Tager) locally were things like introducing a ‘See Something, Say Something’ curriculum into our freshman success classes, things like establishing a peer mentorship program in our school district,” Perry said. “And he really got behind both of those ideas that we had. It was great to see that the superintendent really wanted the students’ input and was really there to listen, and I think we’re going to get a lot of good things from that.”
Tager confirmed that he supported the students’ suggestions. When the marchers made it to the east side of the bridge, Tager was there to greet many of the participants before they reached their final destination of the First Friday festivities.
As the marchers neared Veterans Park, another chant rang through the air: “Flagler united will never be divided.”
Knowing the monthly music event, First Friday, would present a large crowd to appeal to, Perry had conversations with School Board member Colleen Conklin, who helped him reach out to Flagler Beach Police Chief Matthew Doughney, Flagler Broadcasting’s David Ayres and Flagler Beach City Commissioner-Elect Eric Cooley, before the march to ensure it could peacefully coincide with the First Friday festivities.
Perry was able to share the students’ message on stage during First Friday, leading to a standing ovation from many of the hundreds gathered at Veterans Park.
FPC senior Samantha Shumaker sang “God Bless America” to the crowd, and Perry read the names of the 17 Parkland shooting victims as students lined the stage holding signs supporting their message.
During the moment of silence honoring the victims, Flagler Beach resident Elizabeth Mailhoit stood in the crowd with her eyes closed and head bowed.
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
With a shaken voice, the only words she could muster up to describe her feelings on the massacre at Parkland and other school shootings in the nation were: “I have children.”
“We chose a message that I think everyone can get behind,” Perry said after speaking on stage. “Like I’ve been saying all week, it’s about spreading a message of peace, love and positivity, and they really responded to that, and I think we really succeeded in our goal of uniting Flagler together.”
Perry said that the crowd at First Friday likely didn’t know he was going to speak at their event, but that was the whole point.
“These 17 victims at Parkland didn’t know that a shooter was going to show up at their school, but look what happened, you know?” he said. “It’s a harsh reality, but it can happen anywhere at any time to anyone, and so we wanted to get out there and get our message heard.”
As a 15-year-old, FPC sophomore Alyssa Santore said a school shooting is something she never thought she’d have to think about. While she and other students are voicing their school safety concerns to state representatives to hopefully stimulate change at a higher level, they’re also focusing on what they can do locally as students who aren’t old enough to vote.
“I think that since it happened at a high school, and it’s so close to home, it struck a chord with all of us to realize that it really could have happened anywhere, and it could have happened to us,” Santore said.
Flagler County Commissioner Donald O’Brien was one of several elected officials at the march to support the students’ activism.
“First and foremost, I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder any time with folks that want to be engaged in the process of government and being involved with local issues,” O’Brien said. “And then also, I read the five points that they were talking about, and I can’t disagree with any of them.”
Perry said he’s going to continue to meet with local community leaders to help bring five goals to fruition:
- Requiring one school resource officer per 1,000 students in all Flagler County schools
- Fostering student-to-student connections, spreading positivity and modeling good behavior
- Standing against false reporting so that our counties’ resources can be better spent on real threats
- Establishing a new “See Something, Say Something” curriculum introduced to all high school freshmen
- Requiring active shooter training for all faculty and students
“I really want to stress that this is an event for uniting Flagler, for bringing everyone together regardless of party affiliation, regardless of any political agenda,” Perry said. “This is really to bring about local change.”
“We want to make sure that people don’t think this is a partisan thing. It’s not a Democrat march. It’s not for gun safety. We’re not trying to strip away anyone’s rights here. This is about affecting local change and bringing everyone together.”
- TYLER PERRY, FPCHS SGA president