I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington. I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here today to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at just 16 was shot dead at her home in Washington, D.C. I am here 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.
Eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler stood before the hundreds of thousands gathered in Washington, D.C., for the March for Our Lives and asked them to recognize the black women and girls who are disproportionately affected by gun violence. With a poise, passion and purpose seemingly far beyond her years, she told the crowd, “I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant beautiful girls full of potential.”
Those statistics indicate that black women are twice as likely as white women to be killed by a gun (pdf), especially in incidents of intimate-partner violence.
The young speaker has also engaged in activism of her own: On March 14 the fifth-grader helped lead a walkout of 60 students at George Mason Elementary School in nearby Virginia in support of gun reform. In her speech, Naomi said that her school’s walkout lasted 18 minutes, with an additional minute added in honor of 17-year-old school shooting victim Courtlin Arrington, who was killed on March 7 of this year in Birmingham, Ala.
After calmly dismissing those who have attempted to discredit the growing number of young voices raised in protest of America’s current approach to gun control, Naomi then quoted Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Toni Morrison, saying, “if there’s a book that you want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”
March for Our Lives, organized in just over five weeks through the efforts of the incredible student survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla, begins what many hope will be a new chapter in the fight to address gun violence. Naomi appeared to ensure that black women and girls aren’t being lost in that narrative.
“I’m here to say never again for those girls, too. I am here to say that everyone should value those girls, too,” she said.
Naomi also wants us to know that the children are indeed our future. They are aware, engaged and waiting for their chance to change the world.
“My friends and I might still be 11, and we might still be in elementary school, but we know. We know life isn’t equal for everyone, and we know what is right and wrong ... and we know that we have seven short years until we, too, have the right to vote,” she said.