On Saturday, March 24, 2018, we witnessed young people from all over the US and indeed from all over the world marching in protests in the “March for our Lives” rallies. One of my childhood friends and I attended the rally held in Parkland, Florida, the City where the Valentine Day school shooting killed 17 students and teachers and wounded 15. The event was scheduled to start at 10 am, but we got there earlier because of the warnings provided by the organizers. After an emotionally charged ceremony, we left the event experiencing a plethora of emotions, the dominant feelings being anchored in FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.
In attendance were approximately 20,000 impassioned people at the Pine Trails Park event. The abundance of posters narrated strong sentiments primarily about gun control and political involvement with the NRA. The sea of protesters was primarily Caucasian, which caused me to sadly wonder, where are the people of color? As we sung along to the haunting melodies of Michael Jackson’s “Heal the World” and “We are the World,” I was momentarily disheartened and moved to tears that even at the 10 o’clock hour on a Saturday morning, during a protest for our children’s lives, we were still segregated. I am certain that Dr. Martin Luther King would have been as bothered as he was in the 1960s about segregated churches. Despite Parkland being a high income, predominantly Jewish community, it is within a 15-minute drive from Fort Lauderdale which boasts one of the highest Black population in Florida. So where were the Black neighbors? With my friend and I included, we observed less than ten Black protesters.
After an inspiring morning listening to impassioned speeches and creative musical expressions from the students, teachers and parents, I was inspired to volunteer with Marjorie Stoneman Douglas’s (MSDS) efforts to push for changes that will protect our schools and our children. However, I could not shake the question, where are the Black marchers? Having been an educator and administrator in predominantly underserved communities for more than three decades, I have firsthand awareness of the plight of our Black children’s demise at the hands of guns: death by cops, death by the street. Black children are more likely to be killed by guns than the youths of such an affluent community as Parkland. A close relative living in Atlanta, Georgia stated that her High schooler refused to attend their local march because their (Black) lives matter too. I inhaled in exasperation as goose bumps engulfed me as a telltale sign of the harsh reminder. I explained to my relative that I felt similarly caught in feelings of what about our Black and Brown kids?
Despite this feeling, I decided to march because I was encouraged by David Hogg, one of Marjory Stoneman Douglas students, now a prominent activist in the #NeverAgain movement. David recently stated that the media’s biggest mistake while covering the shooting at his school was not giving black survivors a prominent voice. Furthermore, he committed to utilizing his “white privilege” to ensure that other non-white victims of gun violence can be heard. Hogg asserted that if a similar event had occurred in a “lower socio-economic” place “like a black community” that the media would not have given it the extensive coverage that they are receiving, “no matter how well those people spoke.” Accordingly, the students of MSDS took Hogg’s concern a step further and gave 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, an electrifying black student activist, the platform to speak at the “March For Our Lives” rally in DC. Naomi amplified the voices of Black girls whose lives are relegated to statistics. She talked of her involvement in the “National School Walkout” on March 14, 2018 for 18 instead of the designated 17 minutes. She added a minute for a 17-year-old Black teenager shot and killed by another student on March 7, and other black women killed by guns. Naomi further stated with the confidence of a polished orator, “I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper,” she said to a cheering, massive crowd gathered before the Capitol building, “(and) whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.”
So, as I ponder further on optimizing my own purpose here on this earth as an educator, to engage directly in this call to action of the students of MSDS, I am reminded that I, like Naomi, am called to speak for those whose voices have been muted. Accordingly, a call to action on gun control and mental illness awareness must for equity sake, afford an inclusion rider so that our Black and Brown girls and boys can also feel safe and protected in their communities. I move on with this recommitment with the HOPE that this time will be different and politicians will make the decisions to place lives over money; with FAITH in our children’s passion and energy to burn a path of change and as such ameliorate our future; and an increased LOVE of children because they are resilient and fearless as they lead the way. So where are the Black marchers? They are feeling once again that their lives do NOT matter. So, do they matter?
And… Stephon Clark, Courtlin Arrington, Hadiya Pendleton, Taiyania Thompson, Ricardo Chavez…
#MSDSSTRONG #NEVERAGAIN #BLACKLIVESMATTER
Nadine L. Leblanc