Four members of the Hinsdale Central Poetry Club never expected the audience for the poem they wrote and performed at the March 24 March for Our Lives in Chicago would reach beyond the thousands who attended the event organized to protest gun violence and push for gun control.
Freshman Ellie Pena of Oak Brook, junior Amani Mryan of Clarendon Hills, senior Kai Foster of Hinsdale, and junior Ayana Otokiti of Willowbrook performed their poem “Trigger Warning.” It was a follow-up to its original performance at the Feb. 22 to March 1 Louder than a Bomb youth poetry festival at Columbia College in Chicago.
As of Monday, there were more than 3.6 million views via the NowThis Facebook page, which posted a video of the girls presenting the poem at the march.
“I’m proud we did that,” Pena said. “People shared it, and it’s luck that happened, but we didn’t dance around anything. We just made our points. Something needs to be done.”
“It’s not a speech, so I think people were able to have a different take on it,” Foster said. “I’m happy and proud that it’s gotten so many views.”
Mryan said she is excited about the attention received by the video, but that’s only part of the emotions she is feeling.
“It’s a little unnerving. I’m afraid of being a target,” Mryan said. “We’re clearly minorities, and there have been threats made on some of the comments posted for the video. We’ve had a lot of comments with support, but also some pretty hateful stuff from other people.”
Foster, who wrote the foundation of the poem before the others made contributions, said the subject matter seemed timely following the Feb. 14 school shootings in Parkland, Florida.
“The message is that anybody can talk about these sorts of issues, but we don’t want it to be normalized,” she said. “School shootings are so normalized now, and that bothers me.”
“Parkland was a catalyst,” Pena added. “Every shooting before that should have been.”
Mryan said it’s important that the topic of school shootings and gun control remain in public discussion.
“Something like this usually becomes a hot topic and then everyone forgets about it,” she said. “I never thought our poem would have this kind of impact. Our contribution is to keep this discussion going.”
Pena’s father, Ruben Pena, the principal at Hinsdale Middle School, said he was proud of all four girls.
“They worked hard to write a poem within hours of Parkland that resonated for many people,” he said. “They did a nice job communicating.”