Chicago students and activists spent Saturday afternoon at the Florida home of a Parkland shooting survivor and her classmates to discuss the impact gun violence has had on their lives.
“It happens to us every day. It’s a frequent thing here in Chicago,” said Lamar Johnson, the violence prevention coordinator for BRAVE (Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere), a youth program based out of St. Sabina Church in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood.
“So when we have the opportunity to go (to Florida), it’s kind of like a walk-in-the-park situation because that’s what we teach our BRAVE youth leaders about.”
Johnson accompanied students from St. Sabina Academy and North Lawndale College Prep on the trip to the home of Emma Gonzalez, a Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School senior who has become one of the school’s most outspoken leaders in calling for gun reform legislation, following the shooting death of 17 students and staff members at her school last month.
“People of color in inner-cities and everywhere have been dealing with this for a despicably long time, and the media cycles just don’t cover the violence the way they did here,” Gonzalez tweeted following the meeting.
“The platform us Parkland Students have established is to be shared with every person, black or white, gay or straight, religious or not, who has experienced gun violence, and hand in hand, side by side, We Will Make This Change Together.”
Johnson said the trip was organized and funded by Arne Duncan, the former Chicago Public Schools CEO and U.S. secretary of education, who is also a friend to the Rev. Michael Pfleger, senior pastor at St. Sabina.
The two groups spent time swimming, eating pizza and getting to know each other before sitting down for several hours to talk about the impact gun violence has had on their lives. In discussing their differences – from race and background to the nature of gun violence in their communities – Johnson said the students came to see how similar they actually are.
The common denominator, he said, was their concern over access to guns in the U.S.
“That’s the main thing,” Johnson said. “And we know that some media outlets or some people will try to divide us on that issue, but we’re really not divided because you have easy access to guns with young people, you have mental issues and mental trauma with young people whether you’re white or black.”
The topic of gun reform has stayed in the public eye in the weeks following the Parkland shooting thanks in large part to the activism of teen survivors like Gonzalez, who began the #NeverAgain movement – meeting with legislators and staging protests across Florida and beyond to call for stricter gun laws.
Illinois legislators in recent weeks have already moved to pass bills upping the minimum age to purchase assault-type firearms to 21 and setting a 72-hour wait limit to purchase such weapons. The Chicago Police Department is also backing legislation that would ban the sale of high-capacity magazines and increase penalties for possession of body armor following the shooting death last month of CPD Cmdr. Paul Bauer.
Florida state legislators are considering a number of reforms and have opted to restrict rifle sales and allow some teachers to carry firearms inside schools.
Gun rights activists have opposed many of these changes, saying they will limit Second Amendment protections.
The students’ actions have also spurred further upcoming national protests, including a March 14 school walkout and the March For Our Lives protest scheduled in Washington, D.C., later this month. Chicago students will take part in both of those movements, and Johnson said he’s planning on taking busloads of kids to the D.C. march.
“Hopefully the adults take a lesson from what these youth are doing over the next few weeks,” he said. “If these young people are coming there to (fix) this gun issue, then our legislators and civic leaders have no excuse. Absolutely none.”