South Florida Teens Organize To Prevent Gun Violence
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
And now let's hear from some students in South Florida who are all too familiar with gun violence in their neighborhoods and have solutions to propose. WLRN's Nadege Green takes us to a meetup in Miami.
NADEGE GREEN, BYLINE: At this meeting about gun violence, it's not the adults doing the speaking. It's teenagers.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Step up if you haven't been sleeping due to the recent gun violence in our neighborhood. Step up if you feel numb or over it.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I go to Miami Norland Senior High.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: New World School of the Arts.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: William H. Turner Tech.
GREEN: It's Saturday. And they're inside an old middle school turned community center in Liberty City - a neighborhood in Miami that's seen its share of shootings. The meeting starts with a healing circle.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: It is our duty to win.
UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: It is our duty to win.
GREEN: They're all united in the fact that they live in Miami-Dade neighborhoods where shootings happen far too regularly. Shatonia Rivers (ph) is a junior at William H. Turner Technical Arts High. She was in Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives anti-gun violence rally that happened after 17 people were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School about an hour away. After Rivers got back from Washington, just a few blocks from her home, a 4-year-old was killed in Liberty City. A few days after that, four more people were shot.
SHATONIA RIVERS: I'm going up there, and I'm fighting. And then I come home. And then seeing that happen, I felt defeated.
GREEN: Rivers says shootings in her neighborhood happen so often, concerns, like the ones being brought up at this meeting, end up getting dismissed.
RIVERS: It's pretty much, like, oh, it's normal. It happens all the time. It's not normal. And we don't have any relief coming to us.
GREEN: Raqqaya Adside West (ph) is a junior at Miami Central High. She marched in Washington, too.
RAQQAYA ADSIDE WEST: That was my first time hearing the whole narrative about gun violence and about how it wasn't natural. I didn't know it wasn't normal.
GREEN: Because she's been seeing this since elementary school. The first time one of her friends got shot, she was in the fourth grade.
WEST: She didn't die. So it was just, like, OK.
GREEN: Raqqaya says leaving Miami to hear people from outside her community take on gun violence sparked something in her.
WEST: We had this whole march. And there's all the white and white passing people talking about how they didn't want it in their communities. Like, we've had in our communities for so long. It was normal.
VALENCIA GUNDER: See, the reason why I wanted us to come together - right? - because this is the next step after the march.
GREEN: Valencia Gunder (ph) is a community activist helping the teens organize. She's one of the few adults in the room. Her 8-year-old niece was killed almost two years ago. Gunder chaperoned the trip to D.C. Now she's helping the students figure out what to do next.
GUNDER: They like, oh. They're upset. They want this thing to stop. But what the person's going to ask you is, so what is it exactly that you want? And see, what y'all don't want people to think is just because y'all are youth and y'all are from underserved communities that y'all cannot articulate what is it that y'all want and need to be safe.
GREEN: West suggests a tour - student ambassadors going to different high schools, sharing their personal stories and solutions. Jazandrea Birdsong (ph) says since people are now paying more attention to gun violence, this is a chance to remind them most kids get shot in their neighborhoods, not at school.
JAZANDREA BIRDSONG: You know what I'm saying? It's like, that's cute - you know what I'm saying? - to get up and walk out. But what are you going to do next? What legislations are being passed? What lawyers do we have?
GREEN: As the teens here consider their next steps, they don't want to leave the adults out of it, but they don't want them to take over.
BIRDSONG: All of the people that's, you know, 40 and up is like, you know, la, la, la, la. And I can't talk. We are making this very, very, very open for you.
GREEN: Valencia Gunder, the adult helping them, is hesitant to say that what they're doing is the same thing as the Never Again movement at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High.
GUNDER: I would hope I can guarantee our Never Again but apparently not because last week, the week before, if we're not careful this weekend, you know?
GREEN: The teens have their first town hall planned in Miami. And they've invited local politicians.
For NPR News, I'm Nadege Green.
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