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Ex-Marjory Stoneman Douglas Student's Quest To End Gun Violence


I am with a reporting team in Broward County, Fla. We're here to cover tomorrow's anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Fourteen students and three staff were killed last Valentine's Day. Earlier this week, we met David Hogg, one of the survivors. We spoke in Pine Trails Park that's just near by the school. And he remembered what it looked like after the shooting.

DAVID HOGG: There were media trucks over to our right. There were 17 crosses that people had put up in the middle of the park that were there for at least two or three weeks.

GREENE: Which does something to the grass. David said it's something tragedies have in common. Journalists, mourners, people who are just curious - they always congregate somewhere, leaving a patch of dead grass.

HOGG: And I'm tired of seeing that dead grass. I'm tired of seeing that grass from Ferguson, Mo., to Parkland, Fla.

GREENE: Actually he was determined to put an end to all of this from the very first moments. After surviving the shooting and going home to his family, he returned to the school that night to demand action.

HOGG: My mom didn't want me to go to school.

GREENE: She didn't.

HOGG: No. My mom did not want me to go back to school after I'd been there that day and speak to journalists. But I wasn't going to let her stop me. So I literally rode along this road right here down to our school and talked to as many journalists as I could.

GREENE: Why didn't your mom want you to go?

HOGG: Because her son had lived through a mass shooting that day.

GREENE: Did you understand why she...

HOGG: Yeah. But I also didn't care. I didn't care because I knew that I wanted to use my abilities to speak to make sure that I was able to tell the story of why these things are actually happening.

GREENE: Sometimes you forget that David Hogg is only 18 years old. He and his friend Emma Gonzalez are two of the most recognizable faces of the March For Our Lives movement to end gun violence. Over the past year, the group has worked closely with young activists around the country through their bus tour, the Road To Change. That includes activists in Chicago, a place where some confront gun violence every day. And David Hogg has been reflecting on communities like that.

HOGG: I've met families that literally eat on the floor in their household so that they don't get hit by a stray bullet coming in through their window. Those are the stories that are not being told.

GREENE: So on an anniversary like this, I mean, when we're all here to capture this moment and reflect with you, are you concerned that, I mean, it puts too much attention on one place and it might actually take attention away from some of the communities you're talking about like Chicago?

HOGG: No I'm not because I realize that the stories that are going to be told are the stories of the Road To Change. It's the stories of the communities that we didn't just go to but we worked with because that's what made this successful.

GREENE: You keep using the term story. And I remember there was a CNN interview you did very shortly after the shooting, and you said that your class was so young, you hadn't had a chance to tell your story yet.

HOGG: Yeah.

GREENE: Since then, do you feel like you've told your story now?

HOGG: I feel like we've told our story, but it's become a much broader book. We've told one chapter of it, the inciting incident of it, but we are nowhere near the climax of it. The sad thing about this movement - when people always ask me, like, do you think this is really going to continue, do you think that this is sustainable - yes because I meet more and more people every day who've lost children and friends and parents to gun violence in the United States. And until we get the laws that we're looking for, these stories are going to continue.

GREENE: There was a parent who we had on our show this week, April Schentrup, who lost her daughter in the shooting here. She said she's very supportive of March For Our Lives. She also said one thing that she's been struggling with is whether the focus on activism has overshadowed the lives that were lost here. Is that a fair concern for her to have?

HOGG: I think it really depends on how you look at it because their stories need to be remembered. One thing that Manuel Oliver always says is that his son, Joaquin, who was lost in the shooting, is not a victim. He's an activist, and he lives on within us. And I think that the ripples that people create in their lifetime can be amplified by other individuals that are still on the surface, that are still alive today. And I think the ripple of hope that those individuals were going to create throughout their lives that were sadly taken that day lives on in each and every one of us.

GREENE: See, I think she - Mrs. Schentrup was saying that when, you know, she moved away from Parkland and said that when people ask her where she's from and she says she lived in Parkland, they'll immediately say, like, oh, Parkland, that's where there's been this youth advocacy movement. And the first thing they don't say is, oh, that's where 17 lives were lost. And that's what she's been sort of grappling with.

HOGG: It is tough, but I - honestly, I think it's the fact that we have to realize that gun violence affects every part of America. You know, only focusing on Parkland is not going to solve gun violence. Focusing on every zip code is what has to solve gun violence, right? And I agree to some extent that, you know, like, this has overshadowed, like, many of the people. But the reason we do this and the reason we continue to go out and speak is so that there are no other people, so that nobody else has to live through the pain that April has had to live through in the first place.

GREENE: I think about - I can't remember who it was. It was one story about you that quoted one of your friends saying that the David Hogg we see, like, behind the microphone and out there speaking is not necessarily the one he always sees because you can be a goofball and vulnerable and a jokester. And, like, is that - has this movement sort of forced you to take on a certain persona to make it work, I mean, to be a leader? And are you - do you take those times to be vulnerable, like, in your private life?

HOGG: Yeah, definitely. Like, anybody put in my position would act differently. But it's also - it has to do with, like, how it gets covered. It's always going to get more media hits that David Hogg says that the NRA benefits off of school shootings because they're funded by gun manufacturers whose sales go up after every school shooting than me talking about, like, something funny because that's not - I'm not a comedian, right? And that's something that you're really never going to see in the national media unless, like, you see me, like, riding one of those amazing electric scooters in D.C. going to lobby in Congress. I like surfing a lot. I like watching "The Office" and cooking with Emma, one of my best friends. Those are the intimate times, like, with friends that you don't see because, like, nobody likes to see us as kids.

GREENE: I actually think a lot of people, like, have seen how much you've taken away from your own life to give to this movement and have wondered, like, are you taking time for yourself? Like, when are you just the kid? And should you've taken more time to just be the kid?

HOGG: No because, honestly, like, part of what they say is true about me being different on and off camera. But also it's not true at all because, like, I will go on rants for 15 minutes straight about how ridiculous the NRA is, how insane it is that any gun owner supports them in the first place.

GREENE: Just with your friends, not even, like, if...

HOGG: Yeah, just with my friends.

GREENE: ...It's us sitting here.

HOGG: I don't think older generations realize what an impact the shooting here has had on our generation. I don't think people realize how big the school walkouts were and how many student leaders came out of that. I don't think congressmen are realizing what they have coming. Like, seriously, they do not realize.

GREENE: Thanks, David.

HOGG: Yeah, of course. Thank you. And please don't say the shooter's name or show their face in y'all's articles.

GREENE: That was David Hogg. He's co-founder of March For Our Lives and also a survivor of last year's school shooting in Parkland, Fla.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL LANOIS' "JJ LEAVES LA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.