As we approach the third anniversary of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, perhaps it’s an appropriate time to reflect on the magnitude of the situation, as well as where it has led us from there.
On Feb. 14, 2018, Nikolas Cruz, 19 at the time and a former student, walked onto the high school grounds with an AR-15 rifle and began shooting at students and teachers.
Since the deadly Valentine’s Day, when 17 students and staff were killed and more than a dozen were injured, teenagers have taken it upon themselves to step up for what they believe in, instead of waiting for adults or lawmakers to do it for them.
It’s led to a whole new younger generation of activists.
Following the Parkland shooting, survivors created March for Our Lives, hoping to unite young people with the goal of stricter gun regulations.
In March 2018, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a bill that raised the minimum age for buying rifles in the state from 18 to 21. It also imposed a three-day waiting period on all gun purchases.
Since then, students have given speeches to lawmakers, publicly spoken out against the NRA and catapulted themselves into the political world.
And with social media as a platform, young people everywhere have a broader opportunity to make their activism heard.
Many students continue to stay in the fight as it pertains to gun regulations, but David Hogg, Cameron Kasky and Emma Gonzalez in particular are three of the former students who survived the shooting and keep on their mission.
So, where are they today? And what kind of issues are they continuing to tackle? We dug in to find out.
The country has looked on while Hogg and his former fellow classmates and activists have pushed for change, and they’ve used that platform to highlight issues in other communities besides their own.
In a new documentary called “Us Kids,” Hogg says: “In order for us to create a better society, and one with less violence, we have to model what that looks like for ourselves first, in what a beloved community looks like, where we call people in and try to educate each other, instead of just trying to tear each other down on Twitter.”
Video released in January showed Hogg being confronted by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene two years prior, before she was elected to Congress.
In the video, Greene confronts Hogg, asking him a series of gun-related questions and how he was able to meet with senators.
“He’s a coward,” Greene said of Hogg, while on her way to oppose what she called the “radical” gun control he was pushing. “He can’t say one word, because he can’t defend his stance.”
His response was a straight face, later commenting on the matter that, “I was told growing up, it’s just better not to respond to bullies and just walk away.”
Hogg has stood firm in his fight for stricter gun laws, but he’s more recently been in the news on somewhat different matters.
Hogg, under some scrutiny from fellow activists, has launched his own pillow company to compete with MyPillow, run by Mike Lindell, a vocal supporter of former President Donald Trump who has reiterated his stance on conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.
His former classmate Kasky tweeted his disapproval on the matter, saying, “I spent so much time promising people this wasn’t going to turn into a cash grab. I am applying my clown makeup with the shame I deserve.”
In another tweet, he said, “To those of you who marched, donated, lobbied, and called for change... I’m so sorry this is what it turned into. This is embarrassing.”
As part of the creation of the youth activist group Never Again, which champions several causes, including genocide awareness, civil rights, human rights, and more recently, gun regulation and school safety, Kasky has played a major role in fueling the rise of the March for Our Lives Movement.
Initially, following the Parkland massacre, he was all in on discussing better mental health for all, but according to an interview with Men’s Health, he was going through a personal struggle himself with bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression.
“I was raised to think that men don’t feel sad. Men don’t cry,” he said. “A man’s masculinity is a very, very fragile thing. It’s something that can cause a man to do very stupid things to protect.”
After accepting the fact that he has bipolar disorder, and choosing to treat it, he says he’s trying to determine how best to talk about it.
And now, he’s focusing on the Black Lives Matter movement, and says that witnessing it has made him realize he’s had the luxury of being safe as an activist when so many people of color do not feel the same.
“I think a lot of white activists are in a place right now where it’s kind of our turn to shut up,” he said. “It’s time for us to stop and listen and learn.”
He has conveyed his frustration with the world’s perception of Gen Z, saying that they’re inheriting a world of hate.
“This has always been a country of hate,” Kasky said. “But there’s no facade anymore. The curtains have been pulled back. And you can’t fool people.”
He’s said he’s hoping to see mental health addressed more on a federal level in the near future.
“People are putting their mental health at risk to (create social change),” Kasky said. “If you lose your life and well-being in an attempt to advocate for change, the world is losing a valuable person. You don’t need to save everybody. You need to save one person. And if that one person is you, then that’s fine.”
About one month after the Parkland shooting, Gonzalez, along with her friends, kicked off March for Our Lives, which caught the attention of people across the U.S.
During the initial event, she delivered a 6 minute and 20 second speech in an attempt to help people understand what she and her classmates went through on the day of Feb. 14, 2018.
After naming everyone who was killed that day, she went on to say, “My friend Carmen will never complain to me about piano practice.”
She named several more, then paused, cried and waited in silence for the remainder of the 6 minutes and 20 seconds -- the time it took Cruz to shoot up the high school.
Approximately 200,000 people attended that rally.
Now, Gonzalez, a Cuban, bisexual woman, continues to rally people in her community to use their voices and privilege to make a difference, standing up for marginalized and at-risk people.
She’s spoken in front of representatives, instigating change in local leadership and organizing for causes.
She still projects the message of March For Our Lives to protect young lives.
“If you are in a position of power, you need to aim to make the world a better place for every-one living here, not just yourself and your donors,” she told TIME magazine. “Stop allowing violence to persist and being shocked when the youth are softer and gentler than you.”