5 Things Youth of Color Want White Gun Control Advocates to Know

Black students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School called a press conference soon after the historic March for Our Lives to share their concerns about the direction of a movement they feel is marginalizing their voices and suggesting for solutions which could hurt students of color. 

In a manifesto published on the Guardian, Stoneman Douglas’ school newspaper The Eagle Eye calls for increased funding for school security, specifically for more armed officers on campuses. Increasing the presence of armed guards is concerning when you consider that, students of color are more likely to have their actions met with disproportionate discipline, which several activists called out on Twitter.  

Kai Koerber, student at Stoneman Douglas, is concerned that increased police presence will lead to further criminalization of black students in his predominantly white school: “It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” Koerber said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”

While media is increasing its attention on the voices of black and Latinx voices, student survivors still feel their experiences are being underrepresented and thus created #StoriesUntold, a campaign to amplify the experiences young people of color have with gun violence and caution against increased policing as a solution. Using videos, tweets, and partnerships with platforms like Wearemitú, student survivors remind us that gun violence impacts youth of color, especially black youth, at disproportionate rates compared to white youth, yet their calls to action are ignored.

Black women movement leaders like Jamira Burley and Charlene Carruthers, remind us that sustaining movements requires a commitment to ourselves and to each other. Burley is an anti-violence strategist whose recent podcast highlights the legacy of black youth leading anti-gun violence work for over two decades. And Carruthers, director of Black Youth Project 100, recently shared with Teen Vogue her experience organizing around power and privilege as a youth activist.

Learning from these experts, I’ve pulled together 5 actions for young white organizers to consider when building an inclusive movement.

1.  Affirm youth of color’s stake in this movement. The We Been Marching contingent of youth of color in New York City remind us that we need to center anti-racism in community organizing and public policy. Young people of color have been at the center of movements for social justice largely because they are so disproportionately harmed by racism, police violence, and anti-immigrant policies. These daily experiences shape their motivation as activists in a unique way and it’s important for allies to recognize that marginalized groups are pushed into activism rarely by choice, but rather by survival.

As Carruthers said, “I wasn’t born a leader; I was agitated into choosing leadership by growing up on the South Side of Chicago.”

2. Build a horizontal leadership model. Learn from Black Lives Matter whose model is flattened and is “leader-ful,” acknowledging that a singular source of power is not sustainable or reflective of justice.

Leader-ful movements create space for younger leaders to step up by mentoring your peers. With a horizontal leadership model, everyone can still serve specific roles and purposes while having equitable decision-making power, and the movement will be sustainable.

3. Center the experiences of youth of color in your policy platform.  In practice, centering youth of color in policy means talking to them directly and incorporating their needs in the solution. Students of color are telling us that while increasing security may help some students feel safe, but it will inadvertently target and criminalize black youth. Listen to them.

4. Question why you’re speaking. Are you the best messenger for the speaking engagement? Think about the audience and the platform: television, press conference, social media. What is the purpose of the message? For example, if you’re  speaking to a predominantly white audience, would it be better for a young white person to speak about allyship or does a student of color want to use the platform to share their opinion?

Track what voices are being represented by your leadership team. Who else is missing? What’s not being said? If you are getting more media inquiries, divert them to other members of your team whose voices have been undervalued.

5. Check in with yourself and with each other. Getting this right isn’t easy. Practice self-reflection by not only asking yourself how you’re doing, but by asking each other on what’s working well and what you could do better to center and highlight the voices of young organizers of color.

Movement building isn’t easy, but it’s the only way we can truly advocate for ourselves and our communities effectively. Collaborating and amplifying each other’s experiences are practices of allyship that movement leaders often struggle with, yet today we’re seeing many white activists speak out sharply against institutional racism. But speaking out is only one part of white allyship; ensuring that anti-gun violence solutions don’t perpetuate the criminalization of black and brown youth is the anchor that will ground this movement.

Image Credit: Reuters / Jonathan Ernst

Amanda R. Matos, proud Nuyorican from the Bronx, NY, is the co-founder of the WomanHOOD Project, a Bronx-based youth-led organization for young women of color. She is dedicated to empowering communities of color through capacity building, political education, and civic engagement. Amanda has led community organizing and policy initiatives at Planned Parenthood of New York City and Girls for Gender Equity. She is currently pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government as a Sheila C. Johnson Fellow. On her free time, Amanda eats doughnuts and watches great TV shows like Jane the Virgin and Blackish.

Amanda R. Matos is a community organizer and reproductive justice activist from the Bronx, NY.

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