Centennial Student Awarded Scholarship for Peaceful Protest

Marjorie Hsu, Co-editor in Chief

Centennial student senior Ethan Asher has been awarded a $36,000 scholarship for leading the organization “March for our lives Georgia,” (MFOLG), an organization that advocates for gun regulation. Asher started the movement after a person he knew was killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Feb. 2018.

Every year, the Hellen Diller family awards scholarships to 15 Jewish U.S. teens for exceptional leadership and engagement in initiatives making the world a better place. Asher founded MFOLG in 2018 and has since then made impactful strides for the group’s cause with peaceful protests, introducing a piece of legislation in the Georgia State House, and the HR8 bill in the U.S. House. 

Asher said, “I did use part of that to give to charities and give back to causes, and I will use part of that for scholarship money,” and is still deciding which college to attend. 

Along with the award, Asher said that the other winners are also incredible. “One kid raised money and built solar-powered homes for homeless people transitioning out of homelessness in Portland. Another girl provides free libraries to schools in Brazil who didn’t have access to books,” he said.

Asher said it all started when he was at a temple board meeting at his synagogue. They received a call that one of the people who had died at the shooting, Alyssa Alhadeff, was a friend of the people who Asher went to camp with. Asher said, “Even though I never knew Alyssa, it was really hard to watch them go through that trauma and watch them mourn. So, I started as a volunteer.” 

“I think that even then it was difficult to comprehend, that was one loss,” Asher said. “That was one person who I kind of knew. Not only did I start working day to day with the survivors from Parkland and hearing their stories and being around them during PTSD attacks and working with their trauma, but I realized what scale this issue is on. Forty thousand people die from our gun violence in our country alone every single year.”

This led to Asher reaching out to the March For Our Lives organization and specifically leading MFOL in Georgia. 

One of the first demonstrations was a walkout at Centennial in March 2018 when 1,600 CHS students demonstrated. And in March, Asher organized the largest protest in Georgia with 70,000 people demonstrating in downtown Atlanta. He said “it was peaceful and it was powerful.” 

With MFOLG having grown so big, Asher said one of the obstacles is being portrayed “as gun grabbers or people who are out to get the Second Amendment. And, that’s not what we are, and that’s not what I am.” 

He further said, “Our main message is what we like to call holistic common sense gun violence prevention. And, it doesn’t mean we want to come and take your gun away. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to go march door to door removing guns from people. It means things like increasing funding for mental health care in schools, it means passing laws that 18-year-olds can’t buy assault weapons off the street. It means increasing background checks.” He also said that when talking to people who disagree with him, he insists “We’re not anti-gun, we’re anti-gun violence.”

Asher also said that the group introduced a bill last year that has yet to pass the Georgia State House that “would’ve created a joint study committee on the effects between mental health and gun violence in schools.” This is because the current accessibility to guns has led to some people who struggle with mental illness want to hurt others or themselves.

Asher added, “Georgia does a pretty decent job of putting counselors in our schools. States like Arizona, some schools don’t have any counselors. And, even the counselors that we do have aren’t mental health professionals, they’re schedulers. They’re treated as schedulers, they’re treated as people who go to meetings, and they’re not always available for mental health crises,” he added.

Asher described his journey as challenging yet rewarding. “I wish we had focused more on community health based solutions earlier,” he said. We focus on that now, but I wish that I had been educated enough earlier and have done that. Again, we’re in that place now, but now that I’ve been there to look back and say ‘Oh, you know this is something I wish we could’ve done six months ago.” He added, however, that “We’ve seen change. We’ve seen legislation pass in over 20 states. We’ve seen federal legislation that I worked on made it through the U.S. House of Representatives last year. So, when I do think about it. It is worthwhile and it is a slow process.”

Asher does not lead MFOLG anymore but works for a national organization called Future Coalition. He said, “It’s the largest network of young organizers in youth organizations in the country. We connect these young led organizations with more substantial organizations or adult organizations and we give them the resources that they need so they can be successful.”

The project that I’m working on now is the climate strike Sept. 20 in the lead up to the UN Climate Day,”Asher said. All over the country we are hosting climate strikes. You can go to strikewithus.org to register. You can sign up to have your own. Or, you can connect other people in your community that you can go strike with.”

What could one do? He said, “You can do a lot of stuff. One of the college essays that I was looking at was like ‘If you had the ability to change the world as a young person, what would you do?’ And I was like, you do have the ability as a young person to change the world. That’s such a flawed question. Of course we can change the world.”