By: Jen Russon
Marjory Stoneman Douglas Teacher, Diane Wolk-Rogers is on summer break. Sort of.
The educator, known for going toe-to-toe with NRA’s spokesperson, Dana Loesche at a the CNN Town Hall in February, traveled to Long Beach, New York with her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) to serve as grand marshals of the Pride Parade on June 10. They were also there to attend a beach concert that paid tribute to Long Island Native, Scott Beigel, one of two Douglas faculty who died saving his students in the Valentine’s Day shooting.
“It’s important for our most vulnerable students to see and feel the love and support after the trauma of this year,” said Wolk-Rogers, who heads the GSA and is also actively involved in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas chapter of the National Association of Students Against Gun Violence.
She would know. A teacher for over three decades, and resident of the Oak Wood neighborhood in Coral Springs, Wolk-Rogers has taught AP World History to generations of families at Douglas; former students include activist and close friend, Emma Gonzales, and David Hogg. Her husband Mark, a Springs optometrist shares her strong roots in Parkland; their sons now live in Washington D.C., but grew up a stone’s throw from where their mother teaches. Wolk-Rogers taught several victims of the gun massacre there.
“I’ll never get over the deaths, but they are my motivation to stop senseless violence.”
Her TED Talks, “A Parkland Teacher’s Homework for Us All” challenges every U.S. citizen, not just the NRA and politicians who take the organization’s money, to look for answers in the gun control argument as they would a multiple choice test. Accountability by gun manufacturers, responsible ownership of firearms, and taking better care of each other are possible solutions to keeping innocent people from being shot. Wolk-Rogers suggests that there is an answer “D” on this test, and it is not necessarily “All of the Above”. The history teacher says it’s up to the individual concerned about gun violence to find his or her own best supporting details to fill in the blank.
It was the same tactic Wolk-Rogers used at the Town Hall when she asked Loesche: “What is your definition of a ‘well-regulated militia’ as stated in the second amendment?”
Loesche failed to answer the two-pronged question, which included, “how is an 18-year-old with a military rifle well-regulated?”
Anderson Cooper’s CNN team, specifically Briar Goldberg, a Columbine survivor, reached out to Wolk-Rogers after her Town Hall appearance; within weeks, the grieving teacher was flown out, all expenses paid, to Vancouver to deliver her TED Talks, an incendiary yet composed argument that calls for critical thinking and self-reflection as ways of tackling the complex problem of gun violence.
To help ensure that people feel equally safe, healthy, respected and cared for as a means of preventing violence is a daunting goal; one that has proved elusive in the 21-century, but not, as suggested by gun control activists, impossible. Wolk-Rogers has a message for those working toward change:
“Allow yourself to enjoy life,” she said, recounting a recent trip to Key West with her son.
“I’m sitting there on the beach and the sunset is just so beautiful. I was enjoying it, but I couldn’t help but think of my students who died; that their parents would not, would never be able to enjoy another sunset with their lost son or daughter.”
Rogers cleared her throat, and regained the composure and focus that serve as the cornerstones of her activism. She said, when feeling low, she thinks of Gandhi, the Indian activist, who said: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.”
Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.