Benedict College students, law enforcements officials, gun control advocates and Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann walk the streets of Columbia to raise awareness about gun violence. (Photos by Raymond Escoto)
Benedict College students walked the streets around campus Thursday to call for an end to gun violence.
“I know a lot of people that have been killed by guns,” said Yorel Stevenson, a student at the historically Black, liberal arts college. “This is a great way to support them and not let their memory go in vain.”
This is the seventh year the march has taken place, and it has grown every year since, said Debra Stuckey, the event organizer and dorm director.
“One of my students was affected seven years ago,” she said. “It affected my whole dorm. … I share in their grief, their joy. I decided (the march) would be the best thing (to do).”
Stuckey said every school shooting she sees on the news from Columbine to Sandy Hook sticks with her.
“I think about those small, young babies who died for nothing,” she said. “You have students that you see every day, (and) in their families somebody has died or somebody has gone to jail for gun violence. It just becomes a part of you that tugs at your heart.”
Students showed their support for the movement, and many brought handmade signs.
The marchers chanted for an end to gun violence and made their way around campus roadways with a police escort.
“It’s time to speak up and end the silence,” said student Donovan Wilmott. “If you see something, say something.”
Leylani Garcia is a student and member of the resident assistant association Stuckey leads. She and other members of the association helped Stuckey organize the march.
She participates in the march to raise awareness and to educate others about the issue, she said.
“I had a friend who was shot by her little son, because the gun was lying around the house,” Garcia said.
In 2023, 8,702 people died and 6,496 people were injured nationally due to gun violence, according to statistics from the Gun Violence Archive.
Of those, 102 deaths and 124 injuries happened in South Carolina.
The march was preceded by speeches from several public figures who supported the movement.
“Guns will get you in one of two places: the cemetery or prison,” said Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott.
Lott asked the crowd to raise their hands if they knew someone who’s been a victim of gun violence or been incarcerated because of gun violence.
“We saw way too many hands up a minute ago,” Columbia Chief of Police William Holbrook told the crowd.
Columbia Mayor Daniel Rickenmann also spoke at the march.
“Of course I was going to be here,” he told the Carolina News & Reporter. “We’re in the process of putting together our office of violence prevention so we can help reduce this. So anything we can get involved and get people engaged with, we want to be a part of.”
Kershaw County Sheriff Lee Boan, Benedict College Chief of Police Kevin Portee and a representative from the Marlboro County Sheriff’s Department gave speeches as well.
But it wasn’t only students and law enforcement who attended.
Patty Tuttle heads the Midlands chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
“I joined Moms Demand Action after the Parkland shootings, because I saw a lot of high school students who were fighting out against gun violence,” she said before the event. “I was frankly embarrassed that I wasn’t doing enough. If these teenagers were fighting for it, then I should be able to get out and start working for the same thing.”
Event organizer Stuckey said she loves her students so much, she’s going to support them in all they do.
Stuckey is already looking toward the future.
“Next year, if we have to do this all over again, I want the little kids in schools,” she said. “I want the middle schools. I want the high schools (and) every college. We just have to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
March participants wrote the names of gun violence victims and messages against gun violence on cups and placed them in a chain-link fence along a street.
Students Donovan Wilmott and Sinia Massillon show off the sign they carried for the march.
Yorel Stevenson, a Benedict College student, shows off his sign from the march.