200 Bowie High students walk out, call for ceasefire


Students in the Bowie High School International Club organized a walkout June 7, 2004, in protest of the conflict in Palestine. Raaheela Ahmed (center), the former District 5 School Board member, spoke during the protest. Tori Newby/The Bowie Sun

BOWIE, Md. – At 1:15 p.m., Bowie High School students walked out of their classes June 7 as part of a demonstration, calling for a county resolution that would demand a ceasefire in Gaza.

The students gathered on the bleachers of the football field, where they participated in chants and listened to speakers. Bowie High School Principal Joe Kautzer estimated there were about 200 students in attendance.

The protest was entirely student-run, led by junior Olaoluwa “Roxy” Adeleke-Wales, who is also the president and founder of Bowie High School’s International Club.

She planned the event to show student support for a ceasefire, calling on Prince George’s County Board of Education and Bowie City Council to adopt a resolution, as several other county executives and city councils have done.

“We are students. The board is supposed to reflect our needs,” Adeleke-Wales said.

Howard County, Montgomery County and Anne Arundel County executives have called for a ceasefire, in addition to four city councils within Prince George’s County: Brentwood, Takoma Park, College Park and Cheverly.

Adeleke-Wales said the walkout was scheduled to last 29 minutes, from 1:15 p.m. to 1:44 p.m., in recognition of International Solidarity with Palestine Day, which is Nov. 29.

During the half hour, former District 5 Board of Education Member Raaheela Ahmed addressed the crowd, in addition to three student speakers.

“It feels like our government is more concerned about supporting an ally than doing what’s right,” Ahmed said in her speech.

School board members Kenneth Harris and Jocelyn Route and former At-Large Bowie City Councilmember Henri Gardner were among 28 elected officials in Prince George’s County who signed a letter in March calling for a permanent ceasefire in Palestine and urged the County Council to do the same. The student protest called on the entire Board of Education and Bowie City Council to make a similar statement.

Following protests on college campuses across the county, Ahmed said she was honored that in her hometown of Bowie, high school students were just as determined to see change.

During her time on the Board of Education, Ahmed worked to enact a policy that created new guidelines for student demonstrations, with the goal to “elevate student activism.” Ahmed called this a “full-circle moment,” seeing students utilize their right to protest.

Friday’s peaceful demonstration was fully compliant with PGCPS’ guidelines, and the school was in communication with the county to ensure the regulation and safety of students.

Superintendent Millard House II attended the demonstration, and said he wanted to show students they had the support of their superintendent to voice their concerns peacefully.

“We, as a school district, will not suppress the idea of student voice,” House said. “Our focus was to make sure that they're able to do so safely, and that's exactly what's happening today.”

Junior Carlos Paz walked out of his practical law class to attend the demonstration, which he said he found out about through posts on social media. He said the turnout was much more than he had expected.

“Israel is oppressing all these people, and it's so messed up, and we want to say something about it and want to bring awareness to it, and hopefully make a change,” he said.

Paz’s classmate, junior Alexys Camacho, also walked out to show her support for a ceasefire resolution.

“I can't donate as much as other people can, and this is my way of showing that I support it,” she said.

An estimated 200 Bowie High School students walked out of class June 7, 2024, to peacefully protest the conflict in Gaza. Tori Newby/The Bowie Sun

One of the student speakers, a Bowie High School junior who asked to remain anonymous, has a personal tie to the conflict in Gaza. She met a Palestinian girl online named Amira in 2016, and she said they became very good friends. Oct. 7, the day Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that began the ongoing war, was the last day she heard from Amira.

“I hadn’t heard from her in a while. And then, it was a couple days later, and I realized she's no longer,” the Bowie teen said.

Several students said they resonated with the Palestinian people, coming from ethnic backgrounds or identities that have also faced violence.

Adeleke-Wales, who is Nigerian, said she understood the Palestinian people’s struggles of oppression, as Nigerian people have lived under occupation as well. Adeleke-Wales said the Palestinian people’s struggle is similar to Nigeria’s yet “far worse,” and it has moved her to take action.

Kamille Somerville, another member of International Club who helped plan the walkout, said both the school and those walking out aimed to ensure there was no “negative or prejudiced emotions” toward Jewish people.

“No matter what side you're on, you should not be in support of genocide or the mass murder of an entire people,” Somerville said. “Because that runs deeply in my family and in my culture and my race, so I do feel strongly towards a ceasefire and the safety of both sides.”

The walkout was not a school-sanctioned event, and Principal Kautzer said he was proud of the students who worked together to plan the demonstration.

“One of the core skills we want our students to learn is that they should learn how to speak up about things that are important to them,” he said. “I'm really happy that they chose this time and place to do that.

Former District 5 School board Member Raaheela Ahmed and Bowie School Principal Joseph Kautzer address students at the protest. Tori Newby/The Bowie Sun

Tori Newby is a Maryland native who previously covered community news for The Daily Tar Heel in North Carolina and wrote about tech startups in the Triangle area for GrepBeat.

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