Yesterday, I was motivated to march because of a personal experience. I marched for 32 students and teachers who were gunned down across campus on a quiet morning in Blacksburg, VA. I carried around a Virginia Tech sign and met several other VT grads who were marching for the same reason. I made a new sweet friend, who pushed her way through the crowd at the beginning of the march to show me her ‘hokies united’ shirt and give me a big hug, saying she was there too. We walked together for the whole thing, and I learned that she’s lead a life of activism for safer gun laws and public outreach. I woke up feeling so inspired by her, and hope to maintain a lasting friendship with this fierce activist and kindred spirit. While we were recounting so many grizzly details I’d since repressed of that experience, a girl came up to us and said she had almost forgotten about the massacre, simply because so many other mass shootings had happened since that day over ten years ago. I met a mom who had gotten a call from her daughter saying only ‘there’s a shooter in the building’, and we all admitted that we cry easily and often over mass shooting media coverage. It was clear that we all carried that day with us still, as emotions surfaced in unexpected ways during our walk. We mourned for our friends who were lost, our friends who were traumatized, and for the families of fallen students. We mourned for our loss of innocence, and for all of the children senselessly killed the same way in the decade since the VT shooting. It was a cathartic and hopeful experience – but something still felt off. It wasn’t until this morning that I realized – Yesterday, I marched from a place of privilege.
I was privileged, because it had never crossed my mind something like this could happen to me at my school. I was sheltered as a kid, and gun violence was nothing more than an abstract idea featured on the nightly news. Wherever I went, I felt that my safety was a given – and I was protected by the authority put in place to ensure my well-being. Back in 2007, mass shootings were still isolated and shocking events. We were lucky because we got the support we needed. Dozens of mental health professionals were brought onto campus to offer free counseling services. Love poured in from every corner of the world, in the form of cards, videos, sculptures, and thousands of origami peace cranes that were put on display in our student center. These things reminded us that we weren’t alone, that it was ok to be devastated and scared, and we had a community of individuals to lean on and hear us during this surreal time.
White privilege is affecting the gun control debate. We need to recognize what this looks like. White privilege is walking out of your school in protest of gun violence and not being met with any consequences. White privilege is staging a school-wide walkout for gun control, and having your school assure you that you won’t be punished when Ferguson and Baltimore students had to fear for their lives in the face of police brutality. White privilege is having the freedom to openly carry a weapon without fear of retaliation. The CDC reports that a black child is 10 times more likely to be the victim of gun violence than a white child. As we march for the safety of
our children, we must remember to march for the safety of all our citizens. Gun violence comes in many forms, and we too easily forget the imbalance of violence perpetrated against people of color.
One of the most memorable speakers at yesterday’s DC march was 11-year-old Naomi Wadler. She addressed the hundreds of thousands of march participants with a history making speech that shook us to the core. Here’s an excerpt:
“ I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper. Whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.
I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence. Who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls and full of potential.
It is my privilege to be here today. I am indeed full of privilege. My voice has been heard. I am here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names. Because I can, and I was asked to be.
For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I am here to say never again for those girls too. I am here to say that everyone should value those girls too …
… I urge everyone here and everyone who hears my voice to join me in telling the stories that aren’t told. To honor the girls, the women of color, who are murdered at disproportionate rates in this nation. I urge each of you to help me write the narrative for this world and understand, so that these girls and women are never forgotten.”
If you haven’t watched her speech, I urge you to do it now. She delivers this crucial message with a grace and poignancy I could never capture.
Like me, many of you feel moved and energized by the power of the nation’s youth in these recent months. This generation is mobilizing because they are sick of feeling scared, powerless and marginalized. Yesterday I witnessed a small child holding a sign stating she’d already been in several lock-downs since the school year began. Attending elementary school now means participating in intricate safety drills, fully knowing their day could end in blood shed. Highschool seniors organized, lead and spoke at the Seattle march – understanding the need for gun control in schools AND in the streets. These kids don’t know the security I felt growing up. They know it’s their job to make a change, because no one else will do it for them.
As Barack Obama stated in an open letter to Parkland school shooting survivors: “Throughout history, young people like you have helped awaken the conscience of the nation, challenged decision makers … and led the way in making America better.” We must follow these young people, lift them up and give them a platform to speak as Naomi Wadler advised. We must adopt their ideals of inclusivity and learn from their determination and strength. I truly believe we are amid the next great revolution… and revolutions are messy. I’m still learning how to act, when to shut up and listen, and when to speak out. We can’t be scared to participate, but we have to acknowledge that our experience is not universal. I’m proud to be part of this generation, and I’m so excited to see where we go from here.