By Stephanie Younger •
Edited and re-published on Reforming America on April 2, 2019 •
March 24th marks the first anniversary of the March For Our Lives movement, whose mission is to “end gun violence, elect morally just leaders into office and remind the world that young people have the power to drive real change.” I’d like to share my story of being on the organizing committee of Richmond’s National School Walkout and to convey why it’s important to listen to Black youth in this fight for gun violence prevention.
Nearly a year ago, I was given the opportunity to deliver a speech at the March For Our Lives in Richmond, Virginia, which led to being quoted in multiple local news outlets, being invited to contribute articles to other publications, and to organize with a group of student activists. In the midst of these opportunities, I faced racism and online harassment.
It started when I called out two white students for their insensitive comments regarding racism in schools, police brutality and school shootings being intersecting issues. When they suggested the murder of Stephon Clark is a separate issue from the Columbine and Parkland massacres, I asked them if they genuinely believe in Black voices. I was accused of “antagonizing” them, being “rude,” “disrespectful,” “inconsiderate,” “throwing shade,” “clashing,” “fighting,” “attacking” other people, “not exchanging my opinions peacefully” and “changing the subject of who [they] are trying to help.” I was told that I shouldn’t be working with them if I was going to acknowledge the impact gun violence has on Black youth, especially Black girls, instead of “all lives, American lives and not Black lives.” Just to name a few, messages in the group chat read:
“Can we please not make this about race? This is meant to be about the condition of our communities and the character of our country.
“… If you don’t like it here, maybe you shouldn’t be working with us if you’re going to be fighting with other people and attacking us online.”
“I worked over 477 hours for Governor Northam’s campaign and I led some rude, disrespectful and inconsiderate people, but I have never encountered…”
“While she’s being close-minded, selfish, and inconsiderate by changing the subject of who we’re trying to help here, we’ll be busy doing things that actually accomplish something.”
“Stephanie, we 100% respect all of your opinions, but we also believe that the main point of this chat is to talking about how gun violence and how it affects us, as well as what we can do to stop it. How we go about it, whether it [would] be an emphasis on black females or whatever you want is completely your choice…We love the power of Black female voices.”
“The Instagram stories and group chat arguments offended everyone and it has nothing to do with your race or your gender.”
“The point of this is to come together for a common cause regardless of race, sexual orientation or political opinions.”
I was turned away and excluded by the organizers from participating in the Virginia National School Walkout Protest. They waited until the day of the walkout, and when I had arrived to deliver my speech to tell me I was no longer wanted. After sharing my story on social media, at two town halls, one youth summit and one speak-out, that organizing group in Richmond, Virginia became nonexistent.
As a Black girl, I was heavily stereotyped advocating for gun violence prevention, while white youth were showered with praise for it. Black youth have been combating gun violence for generations. It’s infuriating that Black youth are erased from the work we’ve been doing. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth. Black youth are also 14 times more likely than white children to lose their lives to gun violence. Despite this statistic and many more, Black youth don’t usually have school walkouts across the country and thousands of people showing up to our marches in our support. The March For Our Lives in Richmond drew over 5000 people, while demonstrations organized by Black youth drew much fewer.
Amplifying Black voices also means speaking with Black youth rather than speaking for Black youth. From many experiences, I’ve learned to speak for myself as a light-skinned cis, middle class Black girl. Amplifying Black voices means challenging issues, like anti-Black racism and the school-to-prison pipeline, mass incarceration, and police brutality, instead of ignoring the systems that allow Black youth to experience gun violence.
Stephanie Younger is a 16-year-old who advocates for womanism and the abolition of youth prisons.