Walking out to protest gun violence? Robert De Niro just wrote a note to your principal.

On April 20, students from more than 2,500 schools nationwide will walk out of their classrooms to protest gun violence.

At 10 a.m. on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting, students across the country will drop what they're doing and leave their classrooms behind as part of the National School Walkout.

The walkout is continuing an important national conversation that has begun in the wake of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. Teens are refusing to let the debate fade from public consciousness until gun laws change.


Students will participate in a variety of activities organized by the leaders of that school's walkouts. While some may return to class —  several school districts have already issued statements saying that not doing so will result in disciplinary action — others will march on their local lawmakers' offices, call on the government for widespread gun reform, and register people to vote.

Some will, in accordance with the wishes of the officials at Columbine, participate in a day of service.

The protests have received widespread support. But one actor went even further to stand in solidarity with America's students.

Photo by Karim Sahid/AFP/Getty Images.

Robert De Niro, a vocal critic of the NRA and now ally to the #NeverAgain movement, has penned an absence note for anyone who's planning to take part in the walkout.

Didn't expect De Niro to be the one to get all those students out of class? He's got compelling reasons.

The letter, shared by the National School Walkout's official Twitter opens with an appeal to educators to understand that they and De Niro want "a safe nurturing environment for [student] education and growth." Then, De Niro outlined all the reasons he's asked educators to excuse his children in the past, making it clear how those reasons are relevant to the walkout.

"Gun violence is a devastating disease," he wrote under the heading of "health." De Niro goes on to make the case that the walkout is an example of good citizenship — "This is what good citizenship is all about" — and education.

"What an opportunity to teach these kids history by encouraging them to make history," De Niro stated. "Let them learn about the American tradition of protest for change as they experience it."

Would most principals accept this letter? No. But it's an urgent reminder to stand with the students.

The walkout is important. There's no argument about that.

But it's not about just a call for change; it's a demand that, as a country, we don't become desensitized to gun violence. The walkout's creator, high school sophomore Lane Murdock, lives just miles from Newtown, Connecticut, the site of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. She said the idea for the walkout came to her after she realized that her own reaction to the February 2018 shooting at Parkland wasn't one of sadness or fear.

"I really felt quite numb to it. Our whole country is pretty desensitized to gun violence and once I realized I was, too, it really scared me," she told USA Today. "I was no longer surprised that people were dying. That shouldn't be the case."

Survivors of gun violence call for change at the March for our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. in March 2018. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

De Niro's note is a good start, but here's hoping that parents and adults see it and decide to write notes of their own — or, even better, also sit down with their teens to discuss what the walkout means and the impact that young people can have in the world.

"Keeping up the momentum is important," said Murdock. "We saw that low after March for Our Lives, but students aren't quitting on this. Our generation is demanding change and won't be ignored or swept under the rug."

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Prior to European colonization of North America, millions of bison roamed the Great Plains. By the turn of the 20th century, those numbers had dropped to less than 1,000. The deliberate decimation of buffalo herds was a direct attack on the Native American people, who colonizers saw as an obstacle to their "Manifest Destiny," and who the U.S. government engaged in a systematic attempt to eliminate or force into docile submission.

For thousands of years, bison were a sacred, inseparable part of life for Indigenous tribes of the Great Plains, used for food, shelter, utensils, and clothing, in addition to spiritual and emotional well-being. Wiping out the bison population nearly wiped out the Native tribes they were connected to.

Though bison numbers have increased significantly thanks to conservation efforts, governments are still grappling with the ugly legacy, and some municipalities are taking steps to try to repair some of the damage done. As one example, the city of Denver, Colorado has taken the step of giving some of the city's bison population managed by Denver Parks and Recreation to Native American tribes engaged in bison conservation efforts.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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