Since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and teachers were killed last month, teenagers and young people have been leading the conversation on gun control, demanding that politicians and adults in power finally enact actual change to prevent tragedies that have become all too common. But one of the best speakers at yesterday’s March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. was even younger than the high school students we’ve seen speaking out for change.
11-year-old Naomi Wadler was asked to speak at yesterday’s march after she and a classmate lead a walkout at her school, George Mason Elementary, in Alexandria, Virginia. As she explained in her speech, the walkout at Wadler’s school lasted 18 minutes, instead of the typical 17 minutes like at other schools, because she decided to add a minute for Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African-American girl who was shot and killed at her high school in Alabama following the Parkland shooting.
“I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington,” Wadler told the crowd. “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 here 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.”
Wadler continued to use her speech to speak out for gun violence victims of color, whose stories often aren’t given the same national attention as those of white victims of gun violence. As Refinery29 reports, according to a 2014 study, black Americans are twice as likely to be killed by a gun, and black women are twice as likely to be victims of homicide. Despite this, as Wadler explains, these victims often become nameless statistics.
“I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” she continued. “For far too long, these black girls and women have been just numbers. I am here to say #NeverAgain for those girls too.”
From claims that they are crisis victims, to belittling accusations that they are too young to understand what they are talking about, teenage activists publicly speaking out in favor of gun control have received plenty of criticism surrounding their ages — and Wadler had the perfect response.
“People have said that I am too young to have these thoughts on my own, ” she said. “People have said I am a tool of some nameless adult. It’s not true. 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. We also know that we stand in the shadow of the Capitol, and we know that we have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.”
She then concluded her speech with a powerful quote from Toni Morrison. “If there is a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, you must be the one to write it.”
While it’s hard to remain optimistic when faced with everything that’s currently in the news, if girls like Naomi are our future (and they are!), then the future is bright. Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here counting down the 24 years until we can all elect her president.