Kyler and Cory Parris | Credit: Will Austin
Cory Parris wasn’t surprised when his son Kyler took on a leadership role in the student-led March for Our Lives Seattle event.
He remembers when 4-year-old Kyler would stand up on a tiny podium and talk like a politician. Fourteen years later, Kyler was one of the seven students who organized the March 24 event, during which roughly 50,000 students, parents and citizens marched for gun reform.
“When I saw what the Parkland [High School] students were doing [after the Feb. 14 shooting at their Florida school], I felt horrible for not having done anything worth note when it comes to advocating for gun reform,” says Kyler. “Young people have always had power. I’m so proud that my generation has finally come together to use our voices.”
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Kyler and his friends have already announced their next action: Vote for Our Lives Washington, a two-pronged effort to register young voters and convince Washington state legislators to pass gun laws.
“He’s made sure he’s not always [the] person that steps forward for an on-camera interview,” Cory says of his son’s work. “It’s cool and admirable that he has let other people get the majority of the credit.”
Below, hear from both father and son as they discuss gun reform laws and family activism.
What have you loved about being part of the leadership group for March for Our Lives and now Vote for Our Lives?
Kyler: Working with this incredible group of students has changed my life. … Most students, including us, are just struggling to get by in their classes, yet we created a group that was willing to spend late nights together to make the march happen. … It’s been eye-opening to see the amount of change that people can create.
Tell me what excites you about the Vote for Our Lives campaign.
Kyler: We want voter registration to be led by a student in every high school in the state. Voter registration is so huge because voting is the no. 1 way of getting involved. In the last midterm election in 2014, about 1 in 5 voters ages 18–29 voted. I think getting young people to vote is a powerful first step.
I’m also excited about talking to our legislators about common-sense gun laws We’re not afraid to have the rough conversation. We’ll be fighting for people our age to know the truth of who’s willing to stand up for their lives. The more we can connect the people in power with the students, the more we can get them to understand how important this issue is to us.
How have your parents inspired and supported you?
Kyler: We’ve always had real conversations. My parents are always happy to talk about more serious things: religion, poverty, the economy and things that are happening in the world.
From my place of privilege in the suburbs, I learned what the problems are and wanted to figure out how to change the world. … My parents have always supported me as I try to make change in my community and the world.
What’s surprised you about watching Kyler lead?
Cory: He’s made the conscious decision that he’s not going to let his discomfort stop him from doing something. He is a born leader, but at some point, he also said, ‘I’m not going to let my own insecurities stop me from trying anything.’
On a parental level, how have you helped Kyler?
Cory: We let him manage himself. It’s three months until he goes to college. He’s still our kid, but he’s also himself. Part of that is letting him find out where his own limits are. If he’s overcommitted, we let him deal with that. With Kyler, it’s always been about making sure he knows that he’s taking on a lot. He’s a great kid; there’s not a lot of us having to tell him what to do except, ‘Hey, try to dial it back a bit so you can get some sleep.’
As a dad, how do you think you’ve influenced Kyler?
Cory: While the idea of emotional bravery probably came from a leadership camp, I put myself out there all the time as a small-business owner [of a photography company]. I’ve become more comfortable expressing my worth as a photographer and person confidently, even though my nature is to not stand out from the crowd. As I’ve grown older, I’ve fought against that impulse both with myself and my kids to let them know it’s okay to be known as exceptional.
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