Jay Izzo, 18, of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, speaks during a “March for Our Lives” rally March 24 in Red Bank. Photo courtesy of Jay Izzo

Jay Izzo, 18, of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven, speaks during a “March for Our Lives” rally March 24 in Red Bank. Photo courtesy of Jay Izzo

Story by EmmaLee Italia and Christina Leslie | Correspondents, and Jennifer Mauro | Managing Editor

From coast to coast, students-turned-activists descended on cities large and small March 24 to support policies that would bring an end to school violence – and many in the Diocese were no exception.

Whether it was by attending demonstrations in Red Bank and New York City or hearing gun violence survivors speak in Washington, D.C., young people in the Diocese of Trenton made their voices heard among the tens of thousands taking part in the nationwide “March for Our Lives.”

“We are predominantly Christian in this country, and this is one of the main elements in the religion – to care for other people. What better way to show it?” said Jay Izzo, 18, of Nativity Parish, Fair Haven.

Izzo, a senior in Red Bank Regional High School, helped organize a peaceful rally in Red Bank by enlisting the help of fellow students from his creative writing class and local politicians. More than 2,000 people took part.

“The crowd was of all ages: a lot of kids from school, adults, little kids and others,” he said. “Lots of people carried signs, and everyone was really supportive and receptive and cheering.”

The march began with participants walking from the train station, down Broad Street and to the Monmouth County town’s Riverside Gardens Park. Izzo and the students joined with state representatives such as Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11) and Democratic Congressman Frank Pallone.

Explaining his motivation for organizing the rally, Izzo recalled how he received notifications on his phone from news outlets about the Parkland, Fla., shooting in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that left 17 dead.

“I realized it was the third shooting in my senior year alone,” he said. “I pay attention to politics and read the news. …  I thought I could make a positive change.”

Addie Stone and Casey Klek, 11th-graders in Notre Dame High School, Lawrenceville, wanted to be part of that change, too. They marched through the streets of Manhattan during a rally that also featured gun violence survivors from the Las Vegas and Sandy Hook Elementary School massacres.

Klek said she wanted to take part because school violence has become more prevalent over the past few years. “No one should have to worry about getting killed in school. You’re there to learn.”

She said it was important to be among the estimated crowd of 200,000 people taking a stance.

“In today’s world, not many people listen to each other,” she said. “We [young people] were all using our voices to stand up for something really important, and I feel like it showed adults and the people in charge that we do know what’s going on and we can have an opinion.”

Stone agreed. “A lot of people say millennials don’t understand, they don’t care and they don’t want to vote, but that’s so untrue. We do care – we want to see change.”

Both Stone and Klek recounted marching alongside a woman who has been taking part in anti-violence demonstrations since the days of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“I thought that was amazing – that people who were there for something powerful in history are marching with us now,” Klek said.

A day before the march, students from Donovan Catholic High School, Toms River, had the opportunity to witness history, hearing from some of the Parkland shooting victims during a four-day tour to the nation’s capital and beyond.

Included in their trip was a stop at the Newseum, a museum dedicated to the free press and First Amendment. Their visit March 23 coincided with a panel of student journalists from Parkland.

Mary Fitamant, senior in Donovan Catholic, said that while the panel was political, “it was more about their account of taking the role of student reporters and how they weren’t ready to write about the incident emotionally.”

“I just loved how they emphasized how everyone had a voice, no matter their age,” Fitamant said. “The march was started by kids … it was very inspiring and powerful to hear that [youth] can really make an impact in the world.”

Patrick Maguire, Donovan Catholic junior, also was impressed with what the students had to say and how becoming journalists paid tribute to the lives lost.

“They discussed their firsthand experience, and how they had to be strong enough to report about [the incident],” he said. “They couldn’t just grieve, but they had to be strong for the other students.”

In light of the Catholic response to school violence and respect for all human life, Fitamant believes prayer is essential.

“I feel that the first step we should take is to pray, for victims and their families,” she said. “We need to ask God to give us guidance to do the right thing, to find out how to help and what we should do to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Maguire also believes that faith is necessary to help instill respect for life.

“I think there obviously needs to be a change, and through our faith, we see that anger and violence isn’t the way to make that change,” he explained. “We have to make a change through keeping God in our hearts.”