Anjali Akula and Leslie Cheng are advocating for gun reform and legislation to help put an end to gun violence.
Moorestown High School junior Anjali Akula said too often movements build momentum only to die.
“March For Our Lives was this huge rally in Washington, and I think everyone was really caught up in the moment, but unless vocal efforts continue to keep pushing for this legislation, it’s really not going to go anywhere,” Akula said.
Akula, along with her friend and fellow MHS junior Leslie Cheng, are doing their part to keep the fight against gun violence alive. They have taken it upon themselves to meet with their representatives, including Sen. Cory Booker, to discuss advocacy strategies and how they can be a force for change.
For both, their journey began with the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that took 17 lives.
“The Parkland shooting really got to me,” Cheng said somberly.
As they learned about the shooting and followed the unfolding aftermath, both Cheng and Akula were inspired by the students taking a stand who are around their same. They said their example made them realize that they, too, could make an impact.
Akula said organizers of the March For Our Lives movement encouraged students to host nationwide town halls where they engaged in dialogues with their representatives about gun control. Akula and Cheng reached out to Mayor Stacey Jordan, Congressman Tom MacArthur and Booker.
Cheng and Akula met with Jordan and Julie Peterson, MacArthur’s field representative. They said they had some initial trepidations about the meeting since both Jordan and MacArthur are registered Republicans, while Akula and Cheng identify on the more liberal end of the political spectrum, but they walked away from the meeting feeling heard and overwhelmingly encouraged as they discussed specific pieces of legislation related to preventing gun violence they hoped their representatives might stand behind.
On April 24, the pair travelled to Newark where they chatted with Booker via a Skype call held in the senator’s office. Booker arranged a meeting with all of the students who had contacted him about hosting a town hall about gun reform, and both Akula and Cheng said they walked away from the meeting with a renewed faith in politicians.
“He was so genuine,” Cheng said.
Akula said Booker was frank with the students telling them the Republican-controlled Congress is unable to agree on the issues they want to pass, which has resulted in a standstill. She said he told the students that’s why local initiatives are so important.
Booker also stressed gun violence isn’t limited to school shootings and shared the story of a shooting that happened on his block that encouraged him to take a stand for gun reform, according to Akula.
In total, around 15 students listened to the call in Booker’s office while 10 more were on the line. Booker also listened as students broached the issues of mental health and gun violence in minorities.
Following the meeting, all of the students exchanged ideas. Akula said she was inspired to hear about students doing voter registration drives, starting clubs at their schools and organizing letter-writing campaigns and began thinking about how she could bring these ideas back to Moorestown.
“It was so great to meet with all those other students at Sen. Booker’s office because they have a lot of vocal initiatives going on around the state, and it’s something we really want to continue,” Akula said.
The pair said with the school year winding down, they plan to take the summer to discuss how they can affect change at Moorestown High School and the local community come September. They’ve discussed partnering with local groups, such as Moms Demand Action, and they’ve been in active contact with Jordan since their meeting.
“We were talking about continuing our efforts with her possibly in conjunction with our school and advocating for mental health awareness,” Akula said.
The students at Booker’s office also exchanged contact information and have continued to have an ongoing dialogue.
“Currently, we’re all still organizing, and we’re hoping to become a sort of statewide coalition,” Akula said. “So, what we want to do is not necessarily independently, but through our connections with each other, have network of students who are continuously advocating against gun violence.”