The Parkland Students On How We Can All Be Activists

Parkland student Julia Cordover holding the Torch of Equality in the Girls' Lounge at Cannes.

Parkland student Julia Cordover holding the Torch of Equality in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes.

Eighteen year-old Sam Zeif’s life changed forever on Valentine’s Day 2018, when 17 of his classmates and teachers lost their lives during a mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He was on the second floor of his school when he heard the first seven or eight shots, and realized that his 14-year-old brother was in the classroom right above him.
“I texted him, ‘Are you okay?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’m all right. But my teacher was just shot dead in front of me,’” recalled Sam. “My mind raced a million places. Was the shooter still in his classroom? Is he okay?  All I really knew was that there was a room full of 14 year-olds, their teacher was dead in front of them, and no one was protecting them.”
Sam and his brother survived, but Sam lost his best friend, Joaquin, that day. “He’s gone and none of this can be taken back,” said Sam. “No one deserves this. It should never have happened. It should never happen to anyone. And it’s still happening.”
Collectively, the students are turning loss into hope. “I feel a sense of responsibility to be here and speak for those who aren’t able to be here and have a voice,” said Parkland survivor Julia Cordover in the Girls’ Lounge at Cannes Lions.
Here is how the students are using their platform to not only help their friends who were affected, but all victims of violence.

Parkland students Sam Zeif, Madison Leal, and Kai Koerber

Change The Ref

Friends on and off the court, Sam and Joaquin played on the same rec basketball team and Joaquin’s father was their coach. “We hadn’t won a game and Joaquin was getting suspended three games in advance,” said Sam. “He told his dad, ‘We’re not getting a fair game. We need to change the ref.'”  That phrase inspiration the eponymous non-profit organization started by Joaquin’s dad.
“It’s all about empowering the youth, educating them on who to vote for, and how we can successfully and safely run our country,” said Sam. “The ‘ref’ in Washington, D.C. is Donald Trump, who is taking money from the other team [the NRA] and making calls in their favor.”
What You Can Do To Help: Join Change the Ref’s #PostsIntoLetters campaign, which lets you convert your gun-reform social media posts into letters transcribed into Joaquin’s handwriting to be sent to Congress.

Branches Of Bravery

Parkland survivor Madison Leal launched the non-profit Branches of Bravery to plant 17 trees in front of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in honor of the 17 lives that were lost. “We’re following within the footsteps of our founder, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who was an environmentalist focused on preserving and protecting the everglades,” said Madison. “Our mission as an organization is to continue her legacy of appreciating life, the environment and the interaction between the two.”
Inspired by Ghandi’s words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” the organization wants to donate trees to communities that have also been affected by gun violence or other tragedies. “It’s more than just planting trees,” said Madison. “With each community that we visit, we hope to give them resources to enact change because Parkland would not be where it is today without the immense support and love that we’ve received from the entire world, and the resources that we’ve been given to create change.”
What You Can Do To Help: Support the cause by donating to Branches of Bravery’s GoFundMe campaign, which “aims to inspire all individuals to reflect upon the light that comes out of darkness.”

“I want us to acknowledge the great sacrifice these young people are making by reliving this trauma every single time that they speak up,” said Enmanuel Candelario, an Equality Poet who helped lead the audience in a spoken word poem in the lounge.

Societal Reform Corporation

In addition to their work around gun reform, the Parkland students are raising awareness about the need for more resources to help treat mental illness. Parkland student Kai Koerber launched the Societal Reform Corporation to incorporate mental health education into school curriculums across America.
“This curriculum is going to be teaching students in schools across America how to deal with negative emotions such as stress, anger, anxiety, what have you,” said Kai. “The issue of mental health is brain health issue, so we also aim to have students recognize this as something that is manageable, something that people shouldn’t be ostracized for, something people should treat and should respect as a part of that person.”
What You Can Do To Help: Visit to find out how you can volunteer, amplify the message, or donate.
As the Parkland students show, leadership isn’t about age, it’s about action. “These are real voices,” said Shelley Zalis, CEO, The Female Quotient. “They understand what it feels like when you lose someone…These are our leaders who are coming together to create real solutions. That’s how change happens.”
We can all follow their lead and stand up, speak out, and take action to make the world a better place. Here are more ideas on how you can use your voice to make a difference:
What If: The Students Of Parkland On How We Can Create Change, Together
Sophia Bush And Harry Kargman On How You Can Use Your Platform To Do Good
Lead With Impact: How To Speak Up And Be Heard