MOORHEAD - Ten-year-old Saima Velline of Avon, Minn., was determined to see the students from Parkland, Fla., on Tuesday, June 26.
Saima and her mom drove 155 miles north to meet them in Moorhead after missing the Minneapolis stop of their Road To Change summer bus tour on Monday.
Saima, wearing a pink headband with the word "Brave" and a "Welcome to the Revolution" T-shirt, was at Woodlawn Park with a crowd of about 100 people eager to see the students-turned-activists who have been in the international spotlight since tragedy shook Stoneman Douglas High School. A shooting there on Valentine's Day left 17 people dead.
At the forefront of the March For Our Lives movement that started with school walkouts and evolved into the nationwide tour are students Emma Gonzalez and David Hogg. Both were here, along with eight other classmates who met with Moorhead students to share personal stories and strategies in fighting for gun reform.
"Now that they are here it's a bit surreal," said Luke Seidel, a recent Moorhead High School graduate. "It's great to see them in person. They are kids our age, and they are doing so much. Hogg spoke about the death threats that he and his family are receiving, and it's hard to think about that just because they're on a national level facing so much criticism."
Hogg wore a "Let's Make America Safe Again" hat and played frisbee in the background at Woodlawn Park while other students connected with locals, taking pictures and talking about the tour's mission of educating voters.
Gonzalez said the tour has been very "healing" and "heartening" through conversations with people sharing similar traumas. "It feels good to know you are not alone," she said, adding that everybody is affected by gun violence.
Robert Shimek, a member of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa, said he lost family in the 2005 Red Lake school shooting that left 10 people dead. "The grief never leaves you," he said, wearing a yellow shirt with the message "How Are the Children?"
"Somehow, some way, we have to find a way to give peace a chance," he said.
Maggie Vertin, of Breckenridge, Minn., said she wanted to support the students as they transform tragedy into change. "I can't think of anything more inspiring than being among a group of young people who want to protect their future and who are excited about activism," she said.
On Wednesday, June 27, the Parkland students plan to meet with the International Indigenous Youth Council at the Standing Rock reservation before heading to Bismarck.