One of the largest rallies in recent memory brought thousands to downtown Rochester on Saturday.
It was the local version of the nationwide effort to address gun violence called “March for Our Lives,” which brought out hundreds of thousands of marchers across the country. The rallies were organized in part because of the mass shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida last month that took 17 lives, but it was also developed as part of a broader discussion about gun violence in general.
Rochester Police estimate about 5,000 people attended Saturday’s march which started and ended with a rally at Washington Square Park. In between, the huge throng of people marched in a loop around the downtown area.
Among those participating, Erin-Leigh Hoffman, a student at Geneseo Central. She doesn’t agree with critics who say many of these young people were just being egged on by their parents.
“I think the parental support is there, but I think this is very much a student based thing and as a student myself, I have not been pressured by any other parents or adults, this is my passion, my conviction that I want to have, and I’ve spread.”
Lentory Johnson is the mother of Johnnie Johnson, one of the three young men gunned down outside the Boys and Girls Club on Genesee Street in 2015. Since then, she’s been talking with young people at area community centers, and that has bolstered her spirits.
“They give me hope, they give me the presence to believe that change can come, and if you doubt it, and especially after being in attendance here today, then something is wrong with you, not our young people.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren also spoke at the rally and said she was proud to see young people standing up for what’s right, and told them, “I want you to know that your city believes in you; we believe in your mission to end gun violence in communities across the country and right here in the City of Rochester.”
ChaRon Sattler-Leblanc heads up the local chapter of a group called ‘Moms Demand Action’, and said that students need to know they can learn in a safe environment.
“It has happened so much that we try to tell our children that this doesn’t often happen but the reality is, we feel like we’re lying to our children; it’s happening in more and more places, so I think it’s great to finally to see students are finding their agency in different ways to engage in the process and saying enough.”
A number of young people at the rally said they plan to use Saturday’s event as a spring board to organize for future elections.
That includes Dylan Holcomb, who was one of the main organizers of the Saturday rally. He’s also a Brighton student. But he says he’s been working with city-based youth organizations like Teen Empowerment for more than a month. He says having a broad variety of voices and experiences are crucial to the success of this movement.
Holcomb says even if gun legislation hasn’t advanced to the level that many young people would like, they’re now better able to organize, empathize and share experiences with the broader community as a result of Saturday’s march."
"I would say really just the process of us finding our voices, connecting with Teen Empowerment, connecting with local community organizations has been a success for me personally and for the community…I think really, just starting a dialogue.”
Holcomb says we shouldn’t look at gun violence only through the lens of school shootings. He says because gun violence affects communities differently, it’s important to bring all of those voices to the table.
A video compilation of the day's events from WXXI videographer Martin Kaufman.