Lesniak Institute Hosts Youth Against Gun Violence Roundtable
High school students from throughout Union County recently gathered for a roundtable discussion about youth activism against gun violence at the inaugural event of Kean University’s Lesniak Institute for American Leadership.
Students from Elizabeth, Linden, Roselle, Union, Westfield, Cranford, Scotch Plains and Fanwood joined former New Jersey State Sen. Raymond Lesniak and others to plan the next steps for student action in the state. Students discussed the potential impact of proposed gun legislation on their communities and debated the merits of arming teachers.
“No issue energizes youth more than stopping gun violence,” Lesniak said. “That is with good reason as youth are often the victims of violence whether in school or in their communities.”
Attendees included Lamont Repollet, Ph.D., acting New Jersey Commissioner of Education; Dawood Farahi, Ph.D., president, Kean University; and SWAT officer Jim Russo, a veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Many of the roundtable’s student participants said they have witnessed or experienced gun violence. Alexander Hamilton Prep junior Amandah Cleophat’s sister was present during the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting that left five dead on January 6, 2017. While her sister was not physically injured, Cleophat says the incident left “mental injuries.” During the roundtable, she likened arming teachers to placing “a band-aid on a bullet hole.”
“Gun violence is a problem that’s all over the nation. It’s not just in certain states,” Cleophat said. “It’s good that the youth are standing up now and not just offering thoughts and prayers.”
The Lesniak Institute for American Leadership is a nonprofit think tank and training institute designed to develop the next generation of American leaders. Throughout his 40 years in the N.J. Legislature, Sen. Lesniak championed environmental issues, racial justice, criminal justice reform and animal rights. He is also the author of numerous laws designed to increase opportunities for students at the college and pre-college levels. Through the Lesniak Institute for American Leadership, Lesniak hopes to empower not only youth but also seniors and other underrepresented groups.
“We have the lowest rate of participation in our democracy of any developed country and that’s not good for America,” Lesniak said. “These young people have been able to do what adults have not been able to do.”
Photo caption: Sen. Raymond J. Lesniak (standing) chaired the Youth Against Gun Violence roundtable at Kean University on Thursday, April 5.