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Stoneman Douglas Students Perform At Festival For Community Healing

More than 1,500 people gathered for the Actions For Change festival in Parkland’s Pine Trails Park Sunday night, where celebrities and performers like  Alyssa Milano and Skip Marley rallied people to register to vote.

Drama students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School performed songs from their soon-to-be-released album. One is a nod to the clear backpacks they had to carry right after the shooting - It's called 'Transparent':

"What's on my back, can't you see I'm transparent," the lyrics say. "Please let me tell you what I am carrying…"

The students work with the Shine MSD foundation, established after the Feb. 14 shooting to provide healing opportunities for survivors and the community at large through the arts. 

The festival’s main emcee was actress Alyssa Milano. She said the U.S. government is too influenced by the National Rifle Association (NRA), even in the aftermath of mass shootings.

"We live in a nation where numbers are really no longer persuasive," Milano said. "Numbers no longer persuade policy." 

Read More: 'We Are Going To Survive': Douglas Students Use Music, Art To Heal At Camp Shine

Amy Kenny teaches yoga at Stoneman Douglas. She came to the festival to be around her neighbors.

"We need to be together to heal - running into all the students, their moms, their dads, the families, listening to great music…that’s for healing," Kenny said. 

Maddie Schrull came too, with her mom, Sharon. 

"I grew up in Coral Springs...this is home," she said. "It's all about community and togetherness and being here to support the students, the teachers, the faculty, the families - the whole community around the school. And getting people out to vote."

Funds raised at the Actions For Change Festival benefit two nonprofits - Shine MSD, as well as Change the Ref. The latter was started by Manuel Oliver - the father of MSD student Joaquin Oliver, who died in the shooting-  and it aims to heal and empower survivors of gun violence by promoting leadership training.

Manuel Oliver is an artist and during the festival he performed a live art demonstration onstage. Painting a white wood wall made to look like bricks - Oliver hammered signs with names of other cities that have had mass shootings in recent years, like Aurora Colorado, into the wall. 

"We're forced to ask ourselves, 'What is it going to take to actually make a difference?" Milano said to the crowd. "And to me, the only answer there is art. Art is the ultimate conversation instigator... Art doesn't have a political party."

Artist and Stoneman Douglas alumna Nicoelle Cohen installed her work, called The Healing Hearts Project Part Two, on the grass in a section of the park. 

"It's a really good interactive piece because it's hard to talk about gun violence," Cohen said. "So I'm trying to travel with it, mostly to spread love to victims."

It was inspired by a similar project she'd seen after the 9/11 terrorist attacks by artist June Ahrens. Cohen made a call out on social media, asking people to hand-make small fabric hearts and mail them to her.

Together they make one large heart, more than 900 mini hearts-strong. And she's still collecting.

"Everybody that makes the hearts says how healing it's been for them," she said. "And that's what hearts do for me...I think that's why it would be nice to keep it going. When you look at it, it's just something about it that feels good."

This post has been updated. We originally stated that there were more than 420 hearts in the Healing Hearts Project Part Two, and now there are more than 900.