Schools / Kids

PHOTOS: Students Take the Lead With ‘Town Hall for Our Lives’

There is a quote from Isaiah that reads, “A child will lead them.”

These children are not so little, but their youth is impressive compared to their accomplishments: The SOMA Action Student Leadership Council recently organized a Town Hall for Our Lives with Congressman Donald Payne Jr. on April 7 at Essex County College. The event was led by Zoe Newman, Lily Forman, Olivia Hirsch, Laila Gold, Phoebe Hill and Claire Lipkin and a handful of other students who acted as ushers and volunteers.

“For the past week, we have been putting a lot of effort and energy into getting the event up and running,” said Newman, regarding the town hall, which included Payne and a number of other elected leaders from Maplewood and South Orange including Assemblywoman Mila Jasey; Maplewood Mayor Victor DeLuca; Maplewood Township Committee members Frank McGehee, Nancy Adams and Dean Dafis; and South Orange Trustees Walter Clarke and Deborah Davis Ford.

“I think it has been a great experience not only for myself but for all the other student leaders to be exposed to working hard for something that we are all very passionate about. We definitely plan on meeting more frequently in the future and are very excited about the next steps to creating the gun control laws that our society needs,” said Newman. “The problem of gun violence isn’t going away so neither are we, and we won’t stop fighting until we have policy change and common sense gun laws in our communities.”

The SOMA Action Student Leadership Committee is a sub-committee under SOMA Action Education and part of soamaaction.org, a grassroots nonprofit organization in South Orange and Maplewood.  It includes 31 students from Columbia High School, Maplewood Middle School, South Orange Middle School — as well as  a number of students from surrounding areas who have joined the group.

According to SOMa Action member Shannon Cuttle, the subcommittee was formed back in January by Lily Forman. The committee started organizing around gun control after the school shooting in Parkland and its first event was in February with the SOMA Action Education gun control and safer schools community forum that was held at the Maplewood Library.
“They hit the ground running and have been working hard. I’m super proud of them,” said Cuttle.

Assemblywoman Jasey was likewise proud, posting on Facebook, “Town Hall for Our Lives, a conversation about gun violence, was organized and run by SOMA Action Student Leadership Committee at Essex County College this evening. The event featured Congressman Donald Payne, who proudly earned a grade of F from the NRA. Joining us were a host of elected officials from Maplewood and South Orange. Congratulations to our students for an outstanding job and thanks to ECC for co-sponsoring and hosting the event, and Shannon Cuttle and Jonah Wolfe for their service as facilitators.”

“SOMA Action Students held a town hall on gun safety today and I was glad to attend,” posted Trustee Walter Clarke on Facebook. ” “First, because it was the type of thoughtful discussion aimed at understanding and action that we need and second, because the poise and leadership shown by these young people was truly inspiring. Hope for the future! Thank you Lily, Zoe, Layla, Olivia, and SOMA Action Students.”

The event also incluced Dr. Akil Khalfani, director of the Africana Institute.

“Thank you to the SOMA students who organized Saturday’s Congressional District 10 Town Hall on Gun Violence at Essex County College,” said Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca. “It was inspiring to see this next generation of activists and leaders in action. It was an honor to participate on the panel … to discuss how we can reduce guns and gun violence.”

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