Young activist advocates for gun reform centered on black lives

Right now, Aalayah Eastmond is in the middle of finals week at Trinity Washington University in Washington, DC. The 19-year-old is a second year student in the criminal justice program. a defense lawyer.

But, two years ago, on February 14, Eastmond was in his morning class at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. At the end of the day, she was at the center of a gun-related tragedy that ended with 17 people killed and 17 injured by a former student.

She survived, she cried, she graduated, and she became an activist.

As a survivor, Eastmond made it her mission to advocate for the prevention of gun violence. She co-founded Team ENOUGH, a youth-led gun violence prevention organization led by gun reform advocacy group Brady United. But its main purpose is to stand up for black lives, and in so doing, create a more intersectional youth movement that protects black communities while restructuring the way Americans understand gun violence, poverty, and police brutality.

Eastmond was born in Brooklyn, New York. At 4, she moved with her mother to West Virginia, and by the age of 8, she was enrolled in school in Florida. She remained in Broward County, South Florida, until she left for college in Washington, DC, 10 years later.

“We saw a national conversation arise after the shooting in my high school, around gun violence prevention at the national level,” Eastmond said. “But, to me, it felt like this conversation was very one-sided.”

So, just a month after the shooting, alongside nine of his peers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas, Eastmond made his first public appearance at March For Our Lives in Washington, DC, beginning his journey as a public voice on reform. firearms. “I don’t know how I spoke publicly for the first time in front of almost a million people,” Eastmond explained. “It was definitely something I will never forget.”

In 2019, Eastmond spoke at Senate and House Judiciary Committee meetings in support of the bipartisan background checks law of 2019, which would mandate background checks for every firearm sale in the country. nationwide. And she is now a director and member of the executive board of Team ENOUGH, co-founder of Concerned citizens DC, and a newly hired employee at Brady United, where she works with the organization to include youth voices and promote conversations about over-police and police violence.

“We founded Team ENOUGH because we wanted to create a youth-led initiative for gun violence prevention, but which was more intersectional than other organizations,” Eastmond said. “We wanted to make sure that we included all the voices of young people.”

It is important to Eastmond that the ENOUGH team does not focus solely on the threat of mass shootings, which it believes is the fault of many gun reform activists. “We make sure to include those who have been affected by gun suicide, mass shootings and domestic violence. All these different intersections of gun violence that people sometimes forget,” she said.

Eastmond saw that mass shootings, like the one she suffered, made headlines with daily acts of gun violence. It bothered her. “I decided to speak as a young black woman for the inner city communities that face gun violence every day,” Eastmond said. Her own uncle died of gun violence 16 years ago, so she feels like she has known “both sides” of gun violence.

“I wanted to make sure people realize that police violence is gun violence too,” Eastmond explained. “As we resolve [gun violence], it is very important that we connect these two problems because they are one. ”

As she advances in her activism, Eastmond wants to focus on connecting solutions against gun violence with the broader goal of eradicating racist systems – from police brutality to criminal justice reform to criminal justice reform. reallocation of resources to black communities. “I really go out of my way to make sure that we hold people in positions of power accountable … every issue that we talk about, whether it’s gun violence, COVID, climate change. “

Earlier this year, Eastmond was a guest speaker at the 2020 Washington March for Racial Equity. In that speech, she made it clear that racial justice and gun violence are intrinsically linked:

Studies show that persistent gun violence in poor communities of color directly results in centuries of entrenched disadvantage, economic deprivation, and racist policymaking. In many ways, gun violence is the latest domino to fall in a long line of racism, trauma and indifference.

As she reflected on her path to activism, Eastmond said it’s not big events, public speaking and media appearances that make her work worthwhile. “If I’m being honest, my activism doesn’t come from my public speaking – it’s normally for the public – but my activism really comes from my connection with those who can relate to my trauma.”

She says the best part of her two years of advocacy is helping to build a network on the ground across the country, which fits with her intersectional, bottom-up vision of the two movements for racial justice and gender reform. fire arms. She focuses on “really connecting with downtown youth and doing my best to raise their voices as much as possible… making sure that I share my platform that I gained from my tragedy to uplift them. traumas they go through, because, I’m pretty blunt, America doesn’t care what happens to black people. ”

Here’s what else she wants you to know.

1. What advice would you give to young people who wish to get involved in activism?

“I have a feeling that a lot of young people think that getting involved in activism means you have to speak on a big, sophisticated stage; you have to be in front of thousands of people; or you have to have a large audience – or you got to have a lot of great tweets or great photos – but no, your activism doesn’t have to look like that. I think activism is what you want it to be, if you create the change in the way you want to see it. .. ”

Eastmond says she wants young people to start in their communities, talking to people close to them, such as family members, peers and teachers. And remember, “activism comes in many different forms.”

2. Why are the voices of young people an integral part of the movement for racial justice and the prevention of gun violence?

“We are the ones who are disproportionately affected by the issues we are talking about. A lot of people don’t know it, but gun violence is the number one killer of black youth. It’s not driving, it’s is not drugs, it is literally gun violence. So why wouldn’t we want to hear from young people? Why wouldn’t we want to hear from those who are directly and disproportionately affected by these issues? “

3. What tools or resources can aspiring young activists use to inform and propel their activism?

“I think social media is the tool to use. In the age of COVID and being at home, the internet and social media are certainly the way we have seen that everyone is going to spark change and start their journey of activism. “

Eastmond recommends that young people seek out local community groups and grassroots organizations first, and follow their official accounts or leaders on social media, “because these are the people on the ground. These are the people who have been protesting all summer. These are the people generating bail money to bail out people wrongly arrested. ”

She also recommends watching the documentary by Ava Duvernay, 13th, as an introduction to race and criminal justice in the United States, and listening to the Brady United, Red, Blue and Brady podcast, to learn more about the country’s long history with guns and armed violence.

4. What would you say to someone who feels disappointed with politics or the current state of the world? Why is it still important to get involved?

“It’s a little mean, but I don’t like it when people wait until they are touched by a problem to care about it. And I’m guilty of it – I didn’t talk about gun violence in the way i talk about it. now until i survived the shooting in my high school … but, i think we see more change when we have people who are not directly affected by issues who enter the conversation, uplifting those affected and having true allies in those relationships. “

Of all the people, Eastmond knows how difficult it gets. “I understand, politics isn’t pretty right now. It’s not fun, and it’s pretty mean right now with our government. But it’s important that our voices are involved in all of these decisions. We are tired of having old white men making the decisions for us because we are the ones who will be impacted. ”

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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