Though mass shootings garner a lot of attention, the sad truth is that gun violence is an every-day occurrence here in the United States, and many of those stories are not being told. Last year, Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the U. S., set about to bring those untold stories to the forefront through its Students Demand Action Youth Leadership Summits.
The summits are led by high school and college students and held in cities that are disproportionately impacted by gun violence. They are designed to engage students and galvanize local movements, allowing those young people participating all over the country to take gun violence awareness into their own hands at a time when their passion is critical and necessary.
Everytown for Gun Safety is a grantee of Levi Strauss & Co.’s Safer Tomorrow Fund, a $1 million philanthropic fund created one year ago to support nonprofits and youth activists working to end gun violence in America. Everytown has put much of their LS&Co. funding in the last year toward these summits.
“The experience youth are having is very different than that of previous generations,” said Sarah Green, deputy director of student organizing. “They do not feel safe in their communities or their schools. They are aware that there are common-sense solutions and that our government is not acting. They are aware that they are disenfranchised and adults are not taking action to protect them.”
“The things that outrage me as a parent have been internalized by a lot of people in this younger generation,” she added. “They are very acutely aware that the system isn’t working for them.” – Sarah Green
Students, in action
Summits have taken place in Dallas, Oakland, Tallahassee, Washington, D.C., Broward County, Florida—where Parkland is located—and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Students in Baltimore approached them with game-changing ideas for evolving the summits, suggesting they include students speaking about their experiences and performing poetry. That summit was held in June, timed to coincide with National Gun Violence Awareness Day, at Morgan State University in Baltimore. The historically black university was chosen because people of color are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
“The Baltimore students were amazing, a powerful voice that elevated the stories and experiences of people who come from communities affected by gun violence,” Sarah said.
There was a parallel effort in South Central Los Angeles in April, where college students pitched a summer outreach program for low-income kids. They’ve worked with students all summer on daylong excursions and program content produced by those student leaders. In August, they took the conversation further, inviting social media influencers and friends of rapper, entrepreneur and activist Nipsey Hussle, who was gunned down in South Central in March.
Sharing experiences also includes learning what’s worked and what hasn’t so future programs and events can be as impactful as possible.
“What we’ve always said about Everytown is that we’re building the airplane as we fly it. We test and readjust and try to find ideas from the field that work, and figure out how we can scale those ideas,” Sarah said.
Though the group is focused on everyday gun violence, they do ramp up efforts and make themselves available when mass shootings do happen.
“First and foremost, for us in the wake of a mass shooting is checking in with people, especially young people, and letting them know they don’t have to carry the weight of the world on their shoulders,” Sarah said.
Ending gun violence is a marathon and not a sprint. It’s important for gun violence prevention activists to pace themselves.