As the school year simmers down for South Florida students, the rallying cries to reduce gun violence are heating up.
This week, students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland announced they would continue their crusade for gun control with a summer voter-registration drive. A few hours later, the nonprofit Election Heroes Initiative announced that Miami Northwestern Senior High School is leading a voter drive of its own.
Like the Parkland activists, Northwestern students were spurred to action after gun violence in April claimed the lives of a classmate, Kimson Lee Green, along with former student Rickey Dixon. While Parkland students plan to register voters nationwide as part of a bus tour, Northwestern High is looking closer to home.
The students are partnering with the nonprofit voter-registration group Election Heroes to connect with eligible residents in Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
The Election Heroes Initiative’s Team Leader, Chris Wills, says the two voter drives were planned independently — and the back-to-back announcements were just a coincidence. But he says the shared momentum from the two schools should be taken as one big “call to action.”
“Young people in Miami-Dade County and Broward County are all thinking the same thing — this is what we need to dedicate our summer to,” he said.
Daniela Ferrera, who founded Election Heroes, sees the initiative as way to bring in people who have been overlooked by traditional registration drives. Instead of relying on sign-up booths and door-knocking, Ferrera wants to target schools like Northwestern High, which she views as ground zero for voter registration.
“Everybody is connected to a high school student, to a middle school student in some way,” she said.
If these students register, and then register their moms, siblings, and uncles, that could swing an election, she said.
Some students may need some extra motivation.
So Election Heroes promises to sweeten students’ civic action with the potential of a celebrity meet-and-greet or an exclusive concert if they register themselves along with a family member, friend, or neighbor.
Tuesday offered the first of the incentives. Forty-five students deemed “super engaged” in the voter registration effort were treated to a private screening of the latest in The Avengers series, "Avengers: Infinity War" at the AMC theaters at Sunset Place in South Miami.
Ferrera wants prizes to act as a carrot, breaking through “the apathy that a lot of young people are having toward elections” and propelling students and their family toward the polls on Election Day.
Students at Tuesday’s screening said they would have registered and pre-registered regardless of the movie and free popcorn.
Alyssia Richard, 17, says she decided to pre-register to instill the change “for a new generation” that doesn’t “want to sit in class and think about whether you’re going to live to see another day.”
Sixteen-year-old twins Brianna and Brittany Latimore say they pre-registered to vote because they felt there were “certain people in office who do not benefit us in the inner city,” and, come their 18th birthday, they want to vote them out.
Wills said the teens have a big stake in who gets into office.
“Gun violence that affected Parkland and affected the Liberty City community doesn't really discriminate on whether you're a freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior.”