When hundreds of Buford Middle School students walked out of school last month in protest following the deadly supermarket shooting in Buffalo, Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, wanted to respond and show up.
She did so Wednesday.
“I’m here because of you,” Hudson told Buford students. “You all did a great job now two weeks ago planning a rally, which is an important part of how democracy works. It’s how you show your elected officials what you care about.”
Hudson spoke with dozens of Buford students and answered a range of questions about current issues in the news and state policy decisions. She gave students an inside look at how state government functions.
Students wanted to know where Hudson stood on abortion rights, housing laws and gentrification, among other topics and what was being done about them. Some asked about gun violence and how Hudson would protect Charlottesville.
A group of Buford students walked out after a gunman killed 13 people, most of whom were Black, inside a Buffalo, N.Y., grocery store. Within a week after their protest, 19 children and two teachers were killed in a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. The spate of mass shootings has fueled calls for changes to federal gun safety policies.
Hudson pointed out that she was younger than the students in the auditorium when the mass shooting occurred at Columbine High School near Littleton, Colorado, in 1999.
“People that are my age are just beginning to start to serve in public office,” said Hudson, who is 33 years old. “We spent the last 20 years of our lives watching a lot of people in power tell us that they were going to do something about it and not do anything about it for years. And so for my generation, this feels like the problem that we are not going to leave to yours.”
Hudson then recapped a batch of changes made to Virginia’s gun laws in 2020.
Civics teacher Matthew Resnick chimed in several times through Hudson’s talk to connect her answers to concepts students had learned about in class such as federalism.
“You just heard a lot of laws that are only impacting Virginia,” he said. “If you go to another state like West Virginia, a lot of those laws are not present.”
“When there are big changes at the federal level, who works in state government is even more important because a lot of the things that affect your day-to-day life happen in Richmond, not in [Washington,] D.C.,” Hudson said.
Wednesday’s forum was Hudson’s first in-person talk with students in several years, although she talked with students virtually in 2020.
“They exercised their First Amendment rights to protest and, in a functioning democracy, when somebody protests a public servant should show up to get real answers to their questions,” Hudson said after the forum.
This is the last week of school for Buford students and Resnick hoped they would reflect this summer on how what they’ve learned this year can matter, even with all the events occurring in the state and nationally.
Resnick said students haven’t had many in-person speakers recently. He organized the forum after Hudson reached out to him.
“I feel like she connects with the students on a different level,” he said. “She’s the first woman to ever hold this office as a [local] state delegate. We have a bunch of young women leaders. They deserve to meet someone who they could look up to.”
Hudson was elected to the House of Delegates in 2019 and was re-elected last year. An economics professor at the University of Virginia, she told students that she liked serving in state government because her constituents are close by.
“If any of my constituents is excited about something or is grumpy about something, I can be on their porch in 20 minutes or less,” she said.
Toward the end of the forum, Hudson was asked to give advice to the soon-to-be high-schoolers in the audience.
“I feel like high school is often when a lot of people really start to find themselves, and you could be a whole different person by the time you finish high school,” Hudson said. “My only advice is that you feel excited and open to whoever you are in the next four years and that you take the opportunity to build some really tight friendships.”