Wayne County students and adults joined millions around the country in protesting gun violence and calling for tighter gun legislation Saturday during a "March for Our Lives" rally at W.A. Foster Park.
Packed together under a park shelter, the group of several dozen people listened as Wayne County Strong leader Bobby Jones called the adults in the crowd up first. He led them in a repeat-after-me speech praising the kids who had come to the rally.
"We. Support. You," they said in unison.
The first such student to take the microphone was Impact Teens Goldsboro co-founder and Eastern Wayne High senior Ja'Shawn Faire. He said that he and others at the school were not confident in their safety, due to resource restrictions and the layout of their school's campus.
"We have one school resource officer, and our campus is really wide open," he said. "If there's a shooter in east campus and the SRO is in central, that shooter could have 10 bodies by the time the officer can even run over there."
Kyrie Williams, another EWHS student and member of Impact Teens, called on students to help each other feel included.
Keith Copeland, with the Goldsboro NAACP, was one of the few adults to spend much time speaking to the crowd. A mental health professional, Copeland said that the narrative that mental health reform would solve gun violence is misguided.
"It's a very small percentage, we're talking 5 percent of people who are mentally ill are violent," he said.
Instead, Copeland said, the solution is simple -- stricter gun laws which ban the sale of semi-automatic rifles.
"Some people say they use those rifles for sport. Those weapons were not made for sport," he said. "Those weapons were made for one thing and one thing only, and that is war."
After Copeland's speech, the gathered students split up into groups to discuss their thoughts on gun violence. One such group included Eastern Wayne seniors Feronte Webb and Martha Alyea, and Wayne Country Day School junior Grace O'Daniel and seventh-grader Daniel Sharp.
Each had their own reasons for attending. Sharp originally attended because his mother wanted to go, but said that he found some common ground with the other attendees even though he didn't necessarily agree with everything being said.
"My dad and I go shooting, and he's kind of drilled into my head gun safety," he said. "But I do agree something needs to change."
Alyea had originally intended to travel to Raleigh, to join the thousands marching there. When she heard there would be an event taking place at home, she was surprised.
"When I saw that there was going to be a rally here, I was like 'wow, this is actually happening, people do actually care,'" she said.
Having grown up in a world where mass shootings have become all the more common, Alyea said her focus on the issue had become sharper in the last few years.
"Freshman and sophomore year, I was focused on like 'who am I going to sit with at lunch' and other stuff like that. Kid stuff," she said. "But now, it's crazy because you've got like sixth-graders out protesting this stuff because they hear about it and see it. This kind of thing has become kid stuff."