As Baltimore teens mingled with suburban peers in a Rockville home on Thursday evening, waiting to film a television episode for Comedy Central focused on the March for Our Lives rally in Washington this weekend, Carmelo Anthony called via FaceTime to lend his support.
In the lead-up to Saturday’s rally, which is bringing youths from around the country to protest gun violence, these kids — from Baltimore, Rockville, Northern Virginia and one from Parkland, Fla. — were under a big spotlight, but eager to make their voices heard amid the swirling national debate around guns.
“It’s a lot of pressure, because you don’t want to say the wrong thing or misrepresent where you’re from,” said TaLeakca Yates, a 17-year-old senior from Baltimore. “But I’m excited that we have the opportunity to do it. To be heard. It’s not often that we all share the same platform and are all given the same attention. So to see the effort to try to hear everybody’s voice is really heartening.”
The meeting was orchestrated by producers of the Comedy Central television show “The Opposition w/ Jordan Klepper,” wherein Klepper satirically plays a right-wing conspiracy theorist — basically in order to lampoon such people.
Students at Excel Academy in West Baltimore haven’t experienced a school shooting, but have lost seven schoolmates to street gun violence in the last year and a half, and can share stories going back decades about the outsize role guns have played in their lives and the impact it has had on them.
The show was filming a special episode called “The Opposition Chaperones Democracy: Kids Just Wanna Take Guns,” in response to the planned rally, which was organized by students after the killing of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland last month.
The episode was to air at 11:30 Thursday night. In it, Klepper interviews Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and speaks with the kids about their desire to see change.
“There needs to be an adult in the room before these kids do something crazy, like let their sincere and heartfelt message resonate with the nation’s lawmakers to enact common sense measures that could save lives. That would be insane,” said Klepper, in character, in a statement about the episode. “Adults should step in and do what they do best … nothing.”
Klepper, out of character, said he wanted to boost the kids’ voices.
The episode was also to feature a segment pre-recorded at Baltimore’s Excel Academy on Saturday, where one of the show’s “citizen journalists,” Kobi Libii, spoke with Excel kids about gun violence in their community.
At least seven students have been killed in gun violence since last year, and several others have been shot.
At the Rockville home Thursday, other portions of the show were filmed, with Klepper sparring with Booker and then the kids. Klepper suggested the kids want to take everyone’s guns, the kids said they just want sensible gun control.
Among the youths were three from Excel, and Yates, from the Institute of Notre Dame in Baltimore.
After the taping, the Baltimore students said they enjoyed meeting their peers, and talking about gun violence in such a setting — where humor took the edge off any tension.
Many of the other students were from Walter Johnson High School in North Bethesda, where students organized to provide places to stay in the Washington region for kids coming to the rally from across the country.
Gabrielle Zwi, a 17-year-old senior and one of the efforts’ organizers, said families from across Maryland and Virginia have volunteered beds for about 250 kids from across the United States.
Zwi said people her age are committed to ending gun violence and school shootings, which have been an American phenomenon her entire life. She noted the mass shooting at Columbine High School occurred in 1999, and regular drills at school in recent years to practice for similar attacks.
“I was born in the year 2000,” she said. “That’s something we’ve grown up with our whole entire life — whether that’s four times a year doing a shooting drill, or just constantly worrying about it.”
Alfonso Calderón, 16 — a student from Parkland who has been going to events like this and speaking out against gun violence since the shooting at his school — said such events, with fellow kids from other parts of the country, are his “favorite ones.”
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh offers transportation to the March For Our Lives, and Kobi Libii meets with students protesting the underreported gun violence in their school. Courtesy of The Opposition