Alfonso Calderon, a 16-year-old junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, has become one of the most outspoken students calling for change after the Parkland, Florida school shooting that cost 17 lives.
Calderon is one of the students who was invited to a CNN Town Hall on February 21 to address their calls for change, including to gun laws. He was also in Tallahassee, Florida after the mass shooting, where he was among the eight students who lobbied the Florida Legislature for change. You can watch the video of that speech below.
“Please, I beg, and I demand, that every single person in power who has the ability to change the fear that kids feel going back to school that they do something,” Calderon said. The CNN town hall is called “Stand Up: The Students of Stoneman Douglas Demand Action.” After the town hall, Calderon appeared on CNN and told Don Lemon he opposed arming teachers. “Change needs to happen as soon as possible,” he said.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Calderon Told Lawmakers That ‘We Will Not Falter’ & ‘We Will Not Stop This Movement’
Calderon started his emotional speech to Florida lawmakers in Tallahassee by reminding people that “We’re just kids. I know myself. I’m only 16. I’m a junior in high school. Most of my worries are what show am I going to watch at 6 p.m., when do I do my homework, how do I fit in rehearsals for theater. I know for my other colleagues it’s sports, maybe film. But everyone needs to remember, we are just children.”
However, he said that doesn’t mean that those youth don’t have an important perspective to add to the national debate.
“We more than anybody else understand the violence that comes through certain guns, we more than anybody else understand what it’s like to lose somebody, we more than anybody else understand what it’s like to have a beautiful community like Parkland and to have it taken away from us by the media and by everyone else and by Nikolas Cruz who just ruined its image. Parkland is a beautiful safe town and it’s now ruined,” said Calderon.
He added: “…It’s not going to be the same. It’s always going to be, ‘Oh I’m so sorry to hear you’re from Parkland.’ I want everyone to remember we’re just kids… It’s difficult to talk about this sort of thing because not more than a week ago, I was worried about a math test. I was worried about having a school show for the children at the elementary school just a road down.”
He argues that the student voices “aren’t being taken seriously enough. I personally don’t know the steps we have to take, but once we figure that out, we are going to take them and you better believe we are going to take them as soon as possible. Because always we are just kids, we understand, we know…We are old enough to understand why a senator cares about reelection or not. We are old enough to understand why someone might want to discredit us for their own political purposes.”
He concluded, “We will not be silenced. It has gone on long enough…We will not be discouraged. We will not falter, we will not stop this movement. Because this is more than just us. This is about everybody in America. This is for every single kid that fears for their life…. This is more than Parkland. This is more than Florida. This is more than the United States. This is about something serious. It is about human lives.”
2. Calderon Was Locked in a Closet for Four Hours During the Shooting Rampage
During his talk in Tallahassee, Calderon provided details of what he personally went through during the school shooting and its immediate aftermath.
“I was in a closet locked for four hours with people who I would consider almost family crying and weeping on me, begging for their lives,” he said. “I understand what it’s like to text my parents, ‘Goodbye, I might never ever get to see you again, I love you.’ I understand what it’s like to fear for your life,” he said.
“I don’t think we should ever be discredited because of that. I don’t think we should ever be silenced because are just children. …I am extremely, extremely angry and sad, and I don’t know if I’m going to be traumatized because of this. I don’t know if I am going to have faith in my state and local government anymore.”
Nikolas Cruz, a 19-year-old expelled student, is accused of murdering 17 students and staff members during the rampage.
3. Calderon Said He Is Willing to Drop Out of School to Continue the Movement for Gun Policy Changes
Calderon told the lawmakers in Florida that he was supposed to go back to school in less than a week.
“I am not ready. I don’t think anybody here is ready to go back to school and have an empty seat,” he said. “And you know that empty seat is because somebody’s dead. Somebody lost their lives. I don’t know how I will cope for it. …What we need is action, and we need it now more than ever because people are losing their lives, and it’s still not being taken seriously. I don’t know what it takes..”
He then revealed, “I am prepared to drop out of school. I am prepared to not worry about anything else except this. It’s going to happen in my lifetime. I will fight every single day… to see sensible gun laws in this country and so kids don’t have to fear going back to school.”
4. Calderon Says ‘We Are What’s Making the Change’
“We’re what’s making the change,” Calderon said during one speech. “We’re going to talk to these politicians tomorrow. We’re going to talk to them the day after that. We’re going to keep talking, we’re going to keep pushing until something is done because people are dying and this can’t happen anymore.”
Calderon said that “this is different, and change is going to come now, and…this is never going to happen again, like this.”
He told CNN on the way to Tallahassee, “Honestly, it’s the first step. Every major movement in the United States, it always starts at the state level. So first we’ve got to talk to our own state, our own governor, and our own senators and representatives. Have some change here.”
5. People Praised the Eloquence of Calderon & the Other Students
Although some of the students have been subjected to false conspiracy theories that they are crisis actors, many others have praised the eloquence and courage of Calderon and the other high school students.
“Alfonso Calderon is incredibly eloquent and worth listening to,” wrote one man on Twitter. Other people agreed. “Alfonso Calderon. HERO STATUS. #GunControlNow,” wrote a woman. “Alfonso Calderon is Marco Rubio’s worst nightmare. What powerful words. This kid is a hero of mine. Such courage,” wrote another.
A woman wrote, “Unbelievable strength from Alfonso Calderon here. I want to hug him and salute him in equal measure.” And another: “Unbelievable strength from Alfonso Calderon here. I want to hug him and salute him in equal measure.”
Another observer noted, “I’m as sad to see children having been forced to grow up so fast because of such tragedy as i am proud to see them using the pain they endured to create a more positive outcome for all generations to come. All of it while corrupt adults hide in their office like apathetic cowards.”