An initiative started by students at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School in St. Louis to counter gun violence took a step on Dec. 1 to become a movement.
Cardinal Ritter College Prep and the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis hosted a march and rally in response to the death of Cardinal Ritter Prep Class of 2020 graduate Isis Mahr. The 19-year-old, who was working to become a nurse, was returning home from work at an elderly care facility Oct. 17 when she was shot and killed.
Cardinal Ritter Prep students called on all local high school students and others to join in the march. Students from several Catholic high schools and at least one public school met at Wohl Recreation Center on North Kingshighway Boulevard. The march culminated with a rally at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, about two-and-a-half miles away.
The students, many wearing school uniforms or jackets and shirts with their school logos, chanted Isis Mahr’s name and carried signs with slogans such as “Justice for Isis” or “We shouldn’t live in fear.”
Cardinal Ritter College Prep students pledged to continue the momentum from the march and rally, and the Urban League offered its support.
Some students mentioned the message of peace and love brought by Jesus in the Gospel.
Marching with a contingent of fellow students from Villa Duchesne High School, Moriah Morrow said “Jesus is love. That’s one of the biggest takeaways. If we spread the love of Jesus, if we love people and show love in our communities and in our everyday lives, love conquers all. Love can conquer this violence. If we show the love of Christ and continue to uphold the Catholic social teachings, we can inspire others to live a life of peace.”
Speaking later at the rally at Cardinal Ritter College Prep along with representative students from the high schools, the Villa Duchesne senior detailed steps to help young people avoid violence. Moriah stressed the importance of upholding the life and dignity of the human person.
Tamiko Armstead, president of Cardinal Ritter College Prep, earlier referenced the Scripture reading about God knowing us in our mother’s womb before we knew ourselves (Isaiah 49:1-6). “The potential established there is to live up to a good version of ourselves. We can’t do that through gun violence. Lives weren’t meant to be cut short by other people. God’s work would have us ensure that people live up to their full potential by living the full lives He meant for them to live. Those on the other end of the gun, that’s not what they were meant to do either. This movement is to come together and stop this violence.”
Joe Reed, a sophomore at Cardinal Ritter College Prep, said the initiative is a start for the Black community to make changes to stop the killing. He asks people to see beyond the color of one’s skin and refuse to stereotype. “We’re all the same people,” he said.
Taniyah Morrow, a junior at Bishop DuBourg High School, said she has grown up in a community where there was a lot of gun violence. Mahr’s death motivates people to action, Taniyah said. “God is always with you,” she said. “It’s good that we’re all out here marching for a great cause. It’s not all Black or one race. Everyone realizes the problem we’re facing and we all want to do something about it.”
Anna Morrow (no relation), a junior at Saint Louis University from St. Joseph Parish in Farmington who works at the SLU Center for Social Action, was among SLU students who researched the effects of gun violence in St. Louis and on youth and carried signs that had different statistics on how it has affected children and teens in St. Louis.
SLU emphasizes being men and women for others, she said, and being in solidarity with youth affected by gun violence “lives out that mission with our friends at Cardinal Ritter.”
Craige Edwards, principal of Cardinal Ritter Prep, said the foundation of the undertaking is Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace. “In recognition of that, a peaceful march is bringing attention to a violent situation,” Edwards said.
The march and rally were intended to draw attention to gun violence and “the plight of the oppressed in urban areas and other areas of high poverty,” he said.
Jesus’ message and the school’s message is one of love, honor and respect for one another, Edwards explained.
Edwards stressed that the march and rally were not intended to be a one-time thing but were to help introduce services available to people to peacefully navigate stressful situations and avoid violence. A hotline established by the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis will link people in a restorative meeting “so bloodshed can be avoided,” he remarked.
Armstead referred to the date of Dec. 1, 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat at the front of a bus beginning the Montgomery Bus Boycott. On Dec. 1, 2021, she said, St. Louis high school students in unison refused to allow violence to identify their generation and will have started a movement as well.
>> Seeking God’s help
Redemptorist Father Steve Benden, pastor of St. Alphonsus Liguori (Rock Church) Parish in St. Louis, led prayer at the start of the rally against gun violence held at Cardinal Ritter College Preparatory High School.
Father Benden said that because the students started a movement “we need God’s help to keep this in our mind. We need to ask God’s help because we can’t let this moment die,” he said.
He also prayed for God’s help that no one present ever takes up a gun in violence and that “we are a people of peace, not violence.”
The rally and a march were prompted by the shooting death of a Cardinal Ritter College Prep graduate, Isis Mahr, who was known for her volunteer work and, at age 19, having a bright future. Her father, Atif Mahr, gave honor to God for the events and movement he hoped it would start. He said the slight rain at the start of the day was a cleansing of the violence and the sunshine later was meant to take away the tears.
Brenda Mahr, grandmother of Isis Mahr and retired CEO of Employment Connection, said the outpouring of love has made it possible for her family to move on from the tragedy. A member of St. Alphonsus Parish, she earlier said that “overcoming the violence will take the whole community. It needs to start at home so our kids learn to love themselves. If they love themselves, it’s very difficult to kill another person. We are working with Cardinal Ritter College Prep and other young people through the Urban League on the solution. This has to stop with Isis. We want Isis to be the catalyst that sparks a solution to this problem much like Rosa Parks was the catalyst for the civil rights movement so many years ago.”