I’d like to start this article by thanking Mobilizing Youth and Women’s March Youth Empower for inviting me to speak at the Town Hall For Gun Violence Prevention.
The first anniversary of the National School Walkout is approaching. It’s a student led movement that protests congressional, state, and local failures to take action to prevent gun violence. I’d like to share my story of being on the organizing committee of Richmond’s National School Walkout and convey why it’s important to listen to Black youth in this fight for gun violence prevention.
I was given the opportunity to deliver a speech at the March For Our Lives in Richmond, which led to being quoted in multiple local news outlets, being invited to write articles for the ACLU of Virginia and to organize with a group of student activists. In the midst of these opportunities, I faced racism and online harassment as a Black student activist.
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. I was accused of throwing shade, clashing, fighting, attacking other people, not exchanging my opinions peacefully and changing the subject of who March For Our Lives is trying to help”. I was told that I shouldn’t be working with them if I was going to address the disproportionately affected demographic, instead of quote, “all lives, American lives and not Black lives”. I was consequently turned away excluded by the organizers from participating in the April 20th Walkout on Brown’s Island in Richmond, Virginia. They waited until the day of the walkout when I had arrived to deliver my speech to tell me that 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 no longer exists.
As a Black girl, I was heavily stereotyped advocating for gun violence prevention while White youth were showered with praise for doing the exact same thing. Black youth have been combating gun violence for generations. It’s upsetting to me that the media credits White students for something Black students have been doing for a long time.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety, gun violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth, who are also 14 times more likely than White children to lose their lives to gun violence. Despite these statistics, 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 attracted much fewer people.
Amplifying our voices means showing up to demonstrations that challenge issues that may not directly affect you, like racism and the school-to-prison pipeline. Amplifying our voices also means speaking with Black youth rather than speaking for us. I’ve learned to speak for myself as Black girl who is light skinned, who doesn’t identify with the LGBTQ+ community, who hasn’t attended heavily policed schools and who doesn’t live in poverty. My call to action for all of you is to show us you care about Black youth by giving us the same attention you would give to White youth affected by gun violence.
Written by Stephanie Younger, a student activist, organizer and writer who advocates for Womanism, diversity in STEAM, the abolition of youth prisons and gun violence prevention