By Stephanie Younger •
I am writing this as a Black female student activist who was excluded from speaking at the Virginia National School Walkout Protest at Brown’s Island in Richmond, VA; on the 19th anniversary of the Columbine school shooting. Weeks ago, the organizers guaranteed that I could speak about police brutality, and the lack of accompliceship with Black liberation, and especially Black youth who are affected by gun violence the most. Yesterday, an organizer turned me away, and my voice was devalued by a group of people who claim to uplift youth voices. In response to this, I walked out on my own in solidarity with the Black women and girls who are disproportionately affected by gun violence. Black women and girls will always matter to me whether they matter to others or not, and whether my voice is valued or not. Last week, I was being told by the organizers that “if I don’t like this country, just leave,” and that gun violence “is an issue that affects all lives, American lives, and not Black lives.”
Last week, VCU Future Studio and Art 180 generously had me share the stigma that comes with being a Black girl and saying the names of Black women and girls who lost their lives to gun violence. This is the speech I would have delivered at the walkout.
As a Black girl, and an activist, I’m more susceptible to racism within spaces who claim that they intend to create a socially and politically just community. Black women and girls are often viewed as “disrespectful” for defending our communities, even though Malcolm X describes us as “the most disrespected, unprotected and neglected people in America.” It’s so unfortunate that we live in a world where we have to prove to people that we’re not the epitome of these negative labels when we refuse to subdue, sugarcoat and weaken our message.
Uplifting marginalized voices is so important for this movement, because we shed light onto how gun violence disproportionately affects women, the LGBTQ+ community and the Black community. As advocates in Richmond, Virginia, one of the former capitals of the Confederacy, we need to come to terms with our history. This country was built on the genocide and continuous exploitation of Native Americans and the continuous exploitation of Black women and girls whether it’s domestic violence, sexual violence, police brutality and other forms of gun violence, and the thing that is so devastating about it is how it’s something that’s rarely ever discussed.
Fighting gun violence against Black women and girls, is something that needs dialogue and action, and without that, we will fail to understand that the way the white youth in Parkland experience gun violence is not a mere representation of how all walks of life, especially how Black women and girls in America experience gun violence.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth. Everytown also states that Black women are twice as likely to be fatally shot by an intimate partner compared to white women. The Violence Policy Center and the CDC also reported that the highest amount of gun related homicide out of every race of women were Black women. According to a database by mic.com called “Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives,” 72% of transgender murder victims were Black women.
When Black girls speak up for themselves and direct attention to how gun violence affects the Black community, not only are we labeled as “divisive” and “belligerent,” but we are also criminalized by learning environments. According to a study by Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality, Black girls are three times more likely than white girls to experience the school-to-prison pipeline and 20% more likely to be charged with a crime. Black girls have been “Calling B.S” for quite some time, and have put their lives on the line to combat gun violence in their communities. It is about time that Black girls are prioritized in this dialogue and action surrounding gun violence prevention.
Stephanie Younger is a 15-year-old Black student, aspiring computer programmer, poet, writer and a Central Virginia based activist.