Joining 15 others from across the country, Essex High School (EHS) sophomore Maddie Ahmadi has been named to the 2020-21 National Advisory Board for Students Demand Action, a grassroots movement created to channel the energy and passion of high school and college-aged students into the fight against gun violence.
The new board wasted little time in getting to work and has already held a virtual meeting where Ahmadi, the youngest of this year’s group, was able to talk with the other students who hail from all corners of the country including Maryland, Florida, Texas, Arizona, and Michigan.
“I am so honored, humbled, proud, and excited to be working with them, and I feel like I can learn so much from them,” said Ahmadi. “A lot of those students have been involved in this movement longer than I have, and I'm really excited to hear all of their ideas -- and hopefully contribute some of mine.”
Ahmadi helped found the Essex High chapter of Students Demand Action, adding to the total of more than 400 similar groups across the nation. Students Demand Action is under the umbrella of Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit gun violence prevention organization that also oversees Moms Demand Action and Survivors Network.
While on the advisory board, Ahmadi hopes to bring Vermont students’ attention to the organization and make it easier for them to become members. She would also like to help plan advocacy days for students from all 50 states and Washington D.C to visit their respective capitals, like she facilitated for Essex High back in March, and speak with their representatives about gun violence issues. Finally, she wants to let all types of students know that they are welcome to join.
“I hope, on the national level, I can really work with these amazing students to create a more inclusive movement and let everyone know that you can be a gun owner and be a part of Students Demand Action,” said Ahmadi. “You can be a Republican and be a part of Students Demand Action; you can be liberal and be a part of Students Demand Action; you can be of any race, sexuality, anything, and be a part of Students Demand Action. I want it to be the most accepting and inclusive movement it can possibly be.”
Ahmadi also made it clear that the organization does not aim at infringing upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
“We are not here to take away anybody's guns,” she said. “We just advocate for common sense gun laws and gun violence prevention legislation that is going to create safer communities across the country.”
Ahmadi was motivated to get involved in gun control issues by both local and national events.
Ahmadi says she was visiting her aunt in New York City last fall and expressing her frustration with the amount of gun violence she’s constantly seeing through the media. Her aunt connected Ahmadi with a colleague who has a connection with Everytown, and the then-EHS freshman was inspired.
Ahmadi immediately reached out to Amy Phillippo, a social studies teacher at Essex High with whom she was taking Honors Humanities at the time, and asked if Phillippo would be interested in helping advise an EHS chapter of Students Demand Action.
“Largely because of her work ethic and drive, I agreed to advise the group,” said Phillippo. “I knew that Maddie would be a strong leader and make the work for Students Demand Action worthwhile for the Essex chapter, although I am not surprised that her influence will now extend nationally. She leads the group through passionate advocacy, but also enables all members to be integral participants and even leaders themselves. Her advocacy and knowledge, as well as her leadership and drive, are remarkable and unique for someone her age.”
When applications for the 2020-21 national advisory board were made available in August, Ahmadi started working on hers right away after knowing for a while it was something she wanted to become a part of. She was then chosen to be one of the many applicants who applied to get interviewed, and her selection to the board ensued.
April 12, 2017
Ahmadi is a sixth-grade student at Albert D. Lawton Intermediate School. Meanwhile, just over a mile away, Essex High goes into a lockdown after an anonymous caller informs the Essex Police Department that he’s going to use weapons and explosives to harm students at EHS.
Four hours later, ninth graders emerge from the building after it’s cleared by nine law enforcement agencies. Three years later, emotional scars remain for the students who are now seniors while Ahmadi is a ninth grader herself.
“It impacted them all deeply and made the issue of gun violence very relevant and personal,” said Phillippo. “Maddie helped them find a voice through Students Demand Action -- a way to heal by being active.”
Ahmadi said, “They expressed that they didn't feel like they had time to cope or time to talk about what happened that day, what it feels like to be in lockdown for hours, and how it brings back so many memories every time we have a lockdown drill. We truly are growing up in a lockdown generation.
“So we had lots of conversations with them, and they really found the group to be an amazing opportunity to talk about gun violence, but to also talk about the way that it affects young people every day.”
Ahmadi says that those conversations made her even-more passionate about working with the high school and her peers to educate people about gun safety and advocate for common-sense gun laws.
March 11, 2020
Days before the COVID-19 pandemic starts to significantly impact Vermont and closes down schools, Ahmadi and the Essex High Students Demand Action group made a visit to the State House.
While in Montpelier, they spoke with Senator Tim Ashe, Lt. Governor David Zuckerman, and many other legislators. The group specifically focused on and lobbied for H.610, an act relating to firearms and domestic violence. Before leaving, the EHS students were recognized on the House floor by Essex Rep. Marybeth Redmond.
Ahmadi and her peers would later find out that it was the first student-led advocacy day within the Everytown organization, and she believes facilitating the trip was an important factor in garnering a selection to the national advisory board.
Students Demand Action 2020-21 National Advisory Board
- Maddie Ahmadi, a high school sophomore at Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont, and founder of her school’s Students Demand Action group.
- LaTayla Billingslea, high school junior in Georgia, group leader of the Atlanta Community Students Demand Action, and a gun violence survivor whose cousin was shot and killed in 2016.
- Anvitha Doddipalli, a high school senior at Corona Del Sol High School in Chandler, Arizona and leader in her local group and the Arizona Virtual Field Office.
- Megan Dombrowski, a second-year student at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan where she co-founded a group of Students Demand Action.
- Laurence Fine, a senior at Ridgewood High School in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and a leader of Students Demand Action Bergen County since 2018.
- Makayla Jordan, a senior in high school Birmingham, Alabama, and a leader in the Alabama Virtual Field Office.
- Anna Logan, a high school senior at Leon High School in Tallahassee, Florida, and a leader of one of the first Students Demand Action groups nationwide.
- Zack Maaieh, a high school senior in Toledo, Ohio, who co-founded a city-wide Students Demand Action group.
- Ade Osadolor, a first-year student at University of Chicago and leader of the Texas Virtual Field Office in her hometown of Dallas.
- John Peterson, a second-year student at Georgia State University where he co-founded Students Demand Action group. He is entering his second term as a member of the National Advisory Board.
- Mitchell Pinsky, a third-year student at The Ohio State University, and the founder and group leader of Students Demand Action at The Ohio State University. He is entering his second term as a member of the National Advisory Board.
- Katherine Pisabaj, a leader of the Illinois Virtual Field Office from Chicago, Illinois and gun violence survivor who was shot and wounded while her boyfriend was driving her home in 2018.
- Celena Schmolzi, a high school senior at Hickman High School in Columbia, Missouri, and founder of her school’s Students Demand Action group.
- Jeannie She, a high school senior at Walt Whitman High in Bethesda, Maryland. She started her activism in the gun violence prevention movement when her hometown community in Virginia Beach suffered a mass shooting on May 31, 2019.
- Peren Tiemann, a high school junior at Lakeridge High School in Lake Oswego, Oregon, and founder of her school’s group of Students Demand Action. She is entering her second term as a member of the National Advisory Board.
- Seo Yoon Yang, a high school senior at Signal Mountain Middle High School in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a leader with the Chattanooga group of Students Demand Action. She is entering her second term as a member of the National Advisory Board.