Hundreds of thousands rallied for gun control in Washington, D.C., today for the March for Our Lives. The march was organized by survivors of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Speakers included Edna Chávez, a 17-year-old student from Los Angeles.
EDNA LIZBETH CHÁVEZ: Hola, buenas tardes. My name is Edna Lizbeth Chávez, and I am from South Los Angeles, California, el sur de Los Ángeles. I am a 17-year-old senior at Manual Arts High School and a member of an organization called Community Coalition, where I am a youth leader at South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action. At Community Coalition, we organize high school students to develop their leadership skills in order to push for educational justice in our communities. That’s why I got involved. I wanted to impact policies and make sure our voices are heard.
I am a youth leader. I am a survivor. I have lived in South L.A. my entire life and have lost many loved ones to gun violence. This is normal, normal to the point that I have learned to duck from bullets before I learned how to read.
My brother, he was in high school when he passed away. It was a day like any other day, sunset going down on South Central. You hear pops, thinking they’re fireworks. They weren’t pops. You see the melanin on your brother’s skin turn gray. Ricardo was his name. Can y’all say it with me?
CROWD: Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo! Ricardo!
EDNA LIZBETH CHÁVEZ: I lost more than my brother that day. I lost my hero. I also lost my mother, my sister and myself to that trauma and that anxiety. If the bullet did not kill me, that anxiety and that trauma will. I carry that trauma everywhere I go. I carry it with me in schools, in class, walking home and visiting loved ones.
And I am not alone in this experience. For decades, my community of South Los Angeles has become accustomed to this violence. It is normal to see candles. It is normal to see posters. It is normal to see balloons. It is normal to see flowers honoring the lives of black and brown youth that have lost their lives to a bullet.
How can we cope with it, when our school district has its own police department? Instead of making black and brown students feel safe, they continue to profile and criminalize us. Instead, we should have a department specializing in restorative justice. We need to tackle the root causes of the issues we face, and come to an understanding on how to resolve them.
I am here to honor the Florida students that lost their lives and to stand with the Parkland students. I am here, today, to honor Ricardo. I am here today to honor Stephon Clark. I am here today to uplift my South L.A. community!
Enough is enough. Question: How many more children have to die so that this problem is finally acknowledged?
Policymakers, listen up. Arming teachers will not work! More security in our schools does not work! Zero-tolerance policies do not work! They make us feel like criminals. We should feel empowered and supported in our schools. Instead of funding these policies, fund mentorship programs, mental health resources, paid internship and job opportunities. My brother, like many others, would have benefited from this. So let’s make it happen. It’s important to work with people that are impacted by these issues—the people you represent.
We need to focus on changing the conditions that foster violence and trauma. And that’s how we will transform our communities and uplift our voices. This has not, and shall not, stop us. It has only empowered us.
Mi nombre, my name, is Edna Lizbeth Chávez. Remember my name. Remember these faces. Remember us and how we’re making a change. La lucha sigue. Gracias y bendiciones.