In solidarity with the national event in Washington, D.C., March for Our Lives in Columbia is set for Saturday, and this year's event is different from the last. The focus is on gun violence, specifically in the Palmetto state.
Students and residents will march to the Statehouse and rally on the grounds from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., according to Perry Bradley Jr., who plays a major role in organizing the event. Speakers such as 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Robby Wells will also attend, Bradley said.
“We’re not here for the temporary glory of just having a certain event and having people come out," Bradley said. "We're here because we want to make change in the community.”
In planning this year's event, the Richland County Sheriff's Department worked with a Columbia-based organization called Building Better Communities, of which Bradley is CEO. The organization aims to bring together minority communities, police and city officials to form relationships, Bradley said.
Amena Ogbonna, a first-year international studies student, got involved in March for Our Lives this year after she saw how the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reacted after 17 of their classmates were killed in a mass shooting. She said it impacted her because at the time she was similar in age as the students who were speaking out.
“Seeing how the students at the high school, how they kind of took charge and they were like, ‘Enough is enough; I need to do something to change this.’ It really inspired me," Ogbonna said.
Ogbonna said she also wants USC students to take charge as those students did, and she uses social media as a platform to advocate for issues. She said this brings awareness to her friends who can then help educate their friends and beyond.
Reylan Cook, a first-year public health student and student liaison for BBC, is in the beginning stages of setting up a USC chapter of the organization. Cook said students should get involved in the March for Our Lives movement because the initial shock of gun violence has passed and the pressure on lawmakers to act is fading away.
“It’s important that we realize that this is still a problem," Cook said. "Just because it hasn’t happened yet, it’s going to continue to happen, and we should continue to just press in and press forward.”
Cook said she got involved in March for Our Lives because her high school was located in a lower-income area where her fellow students were victimized by gun violence.
Cook also said she wants to work with resources at USC like the Student Health Services as well as local resources to strengthen safety measures on campus. Exposing students to these methods at the March for Our Lives event can allow them to prepare themselves if they're ever involved in an active shooter situation, she said.
Bradley said Columbia could benefit from beefing up their security around public events because of the safety concerns of participants in this year's march. This rise in concern has come from the recent shootings in two New Zealand mosques that killed 50 people.
Ogbonna said when mass shootings occur, people tend to believe it's an isolated incident, but she says this is a more serious concern for students.
"People don’t really take into account that this could happen anywhere, this could happen on USC’s campus," Ogbonna said.