A 17-year-old student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida on Tuesday stood in the Memphis church where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his last speech and appealed for help.
“I’m here today because February 14, 2018, was the most terrifying day of my life,” Mei-Ling Ho-Shing told an audience at Mason Temple, where King gave his “I Have Been to the Mountaintop” speech the night before he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel.
“A man entered my high school with an AR-15 and murdered 17 people, 14 of them my fellow students. He killed my friends. This was the worst day of our lives, and I will do anything I can do to stop it from happening to other people like me,” she said.
Ho-Shing is among the students at the Parkland, Florida, high school who sparked the #NeverAgain movement challenging “lawmakers choosing money from the NRA over our safety,” says a Facebook page for #NeverAgainMSD.
As a black student of Jamaican-Chinese heritage, Ho-Shing gave voice to the issue of how the national movement was triggered by an attack in a white and wealthy community while “black and brown people are shot on a daily basis.”
Her mother, Vikki Ho-Shing, is traveling with her daughter and said later that she believes the movement should have started earlier, giving the example of the 2015 killing of nine African-Americans at a Charleston, South Carolina, church.
“What hurts the most about the Stoneman-Douglas shooting and the response is, why did we have this response?” Vikki Ho-Shing said. “When people got shot in the church, it definitely should have been ‘never again.’”
Mei-Ling had delivered her message to the Washington-based American Federation of Teachers union, which led to an invitation to appear at the I Am 2018 Mountaintop conference at Mason Temple to commemorate the 50th anniversary of King’s slaying on April 4.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, spoke at the conference following Ho-Shing, praising a new generation of activists in red states “who are taking a page from the civil rights movements, sanitation workers, freedom fighters who stood against injustice.”
“They, the young people of this country, whether they are in Black Lives Matter or in the new fight against gun violence, they are showing us what a movement looks like. They are showing us what democracy looks like. She is showing us that the era of passive resignation is over,” Weingarten said.
After her daughter’s speech, Vikki Ho-Shing, 47, stood watching and taking photographs as a television reporter interviewed Mei-Ling.
While enjoying the historic moment — actor Danny Glover, Memphis sanitation workers who marched with King and 1968 strike organizers Bill Lucy and Rev. James Lawson were on a previous panel — Vikki Ho-Shing also said she found Memphis to be something of a “time warp.”
“Memphis, it kind of looks the same, 50 years ago, at the very same time, the very same ideas,” she said. “Kind of stuck.”
With her speech, her daughter appealed for help changing the world.
“I am here today because I need your help. On March 24 I saw hundreds of thousands of Americans of all races, creeds, ages and nationalities gather in Washington, D.C., because they want a future where students like me don’t have to be afraid to enter our schools.
“But this movement doesn’t end with a march. We need people like you, who care about communities, to join us in this fight.
“And finally, I’m here today because of all the struggles and sacrifices of the people who came before me. People like Bill Lucy and all the strikers here in Memphis from 50 years ago, people like Rev. King.
“When I was in D.C., I read a quote on his monument that said, ‘Unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.’ They will have the final word, but only if we continue to do the work that he and so many others put in to build a foundation for freedom.”
This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit reporting project on economic justice in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Center for Community Change and the Surdna Foundation.