On Feb. 14, 2018, a school shooting occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. All across the country, high school students took a stand against gun violence. Elena Perez, 18, was one of those students.
Perez was a student at Lyndhurst High School when the Parkland shooting occurred. Elsa Todd, Perez’s mother, explained what motivated her daughter to start protesting.
“She was deeply impacted by Sandy Hook as a child and, as with many others, Parkland was a tipping point for her,” Todd said.
Perez, now a student at Montclair State University, originally began activism work before Parkland by volunteering for the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI).
“I started working in seventh grade,” Perez said. “I did this presentation at school, and after that I worked at NAMI just raising money.”
After Parkland, she got involved with March for our Lives. Before the march, Todd recalls being concerned for her daughter’s well-being.
“A couple weeks before, I started having misgivings,” Todd said. “I really thought something bad may happen, and while I’m okay taking risks with myself, I’m not with Elena.”
When she discussed canceling their trip to the District of Columbia to join the protest, Perez reassured her mother that this was something she needed to do.
“Mom, if we are afraid to stand up for what we believe in, then we are already dead,” Perez said.
Todd soon realized that activism is her daughter’s calling.
“Since that day, I realized she’s meant to do what she does and clipping her wings would do her, and the rest of the world, a disservice,” Todd said.
After the March for our Lives protest in March of 2018, Perez got involved on a local level in New Jersey. She founded the Bergen County chapter of March for our Lives, and was recently named New Jersey State Director of the organization.
Perez is not only a gun violence advocate, she also cares about LGBTQ issues, racial and gender inequality and suicide prevention.
With her activism work she has had to make some sacrifices.
“I see the sacrifices she makes,” Todd said. “There are, at times, big events, [such as] her last high school pep rally, which had to be missed because she was speaking at an event or she has to go to D.C. to lobby.”
Despite how serious the issues are, Perez and her fellow activists aren’t all serious all the time.
“I love seeing how the young people involved in activism are really there for each other and are quite silly at times,” Todd said. “They know that they have to be [silly] so they don’t burn out.”
Perez has other hobbies and interests outside of activism. She is also an avid reader.
“I read a lot and I hang out at Barnes & Noble a lot,” Perez said. “The people who work there know me.”
Perez’s favorite is Harper Lee’s classic novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’
Hailey Mayewski is a freshman at Montclair State, and Perez’s best friend. She recognizes that Perez is making a difference, even through small gestures and acts of kindness.
“Elena is the person that you call when you get a flat tire,” Mayewski said. “She’s always there and willing to help.”
Mayewski has a sense of pride about her friend’s accomplishments.
“Not many people can say that Cory Booker knows their best friends name,” Mayewski said.