HOPE Students Use Legal Education to Launch Initiatives for Marjory Stoneman Douglas H.S.

BY:  
CREATED:  

In the aftermath of the February 14, 2018 school shooting that took place just 50 miles north of Miami Law, law students, many of whom graduated from MSD or have connections to the Parkland community, leaped in to action.

Candelario Saldana, 2L, and Christina Robinson, 3L, showing support for MSD

With the assistance of the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, law students are showing support with a number of initiatives for the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School community in Parkland, FL including: helping to increase voter registration and turnout, ensuring high school students know their rights, and advocating for gun policy reform.

As Parkland is in Miami Law school’s backyard, many students have been personally affected by the recent events: “I grew up across the street from MSD in Parkland, which is every bit a small town with a tight-knit community,” said 1L Miami Scholar Stephen Davis. “My brothers and many of my friends are Douglas graduates, and I know some current students and teachers who were directly affected, so this is personal for me.”

“I am from Miami,” said 1L Jennifer Gonzalez. “I was born and raised here. Though gun violence is not something unheard of in Miami, this is the first time (in my lifetime) that a school shooting has felt really ‘close to home.’ Though I didn't go to MSD, I felt the loss of those 17 lives as a loss to my community. I was inspired by the fearless resistance of the MSD students in the wake of this tragedy and really just wanted to help,” said Gonzalez.

After the massacre, Miami Law students were quick to find ways to use their legal education to help make change. “I would describe myself as part of a group of law students who are interested in bringing about sensible gun legislation,” said 1L Evan Kuhl, who has emerged as one of the student leaders of these initiatives.

Kuhl, Gonzalez, Davis and others organized Miami Law students to volunteer at the March for Our Lives events in Parkland and Miami Beach that took place on March 24, 2018 in coordination with marches all across the country. Miami Law students registered people to vote, served as march facilitators and legal observers through the National Lawyer’s Guild, and as protestors actively participating in calling for change.  

Davis used his background in working on political campaigns to play an instrumental role in helping the MSD student organizers plan and manage the logistics for the March For Our Lives event in Parkland. “I met some of the kids leading the movement when I helped coordinate logistics for the CNN Town Hall, and I was absolutely inspired by their drive to use their horrific experiences to become advocates for long-needed changes to the way our political system treats guns and gun violence,” said Davis. “These kids are a force to be reckoned with.”

The initiatives will not stop now that the marches are over. “In the coming months, we intend to host a series of on-campus community engagement events that are designed to educate young voters (from every corner of Miami) on the issues presented by the 2018 elections. It is our hope that, with the protests behind us, the energy of this organic movement will not wane before tangible progress is made,” said Kuhl.

Davis agrees. “The real work starts now. I have been working with a handful of incredible advocates and Miami Law students to create an initiative that seeks to engage, educate, and register voters on the issue of gun violence--similar to how the NRA has created a coalition of single issue voters. This is a long-term project that will educate voters about existing or proposed policies and legislation, and illustrate the correlation between those events to gun violence.”

Many Miami law alums were personally impacted by the horrific shooting as well. Melissa Beigel, J.D.’04, lost her brother, Scott, in the shooting.  Scott was a geography teacher and cross-country coach who lost his life protecting his students at MSD.

“I’m so glad to hear that Miami Law students and HOPE are dedicated to working towards sensible gun policy reform and are supportive of all those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas,” said Beigel. “It means a tremendous amount to me and my family.”

To get involved in the initiatives to support MSD, please email umhope@law.miami.edu.