Recently, eight students who have been affected by gun violence came to ED to share their experiences with Secretary Duncan and his staff.,They were from all across the country and had experienced gun violence in different ways. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room as each shared their ordeals with either a mass shooting, personal injury as a result of an attack, or perpetual gun violence in their communities. Their recommendations on how to mitigate gun violence varied from mental health supports and job opportunities, to after school supports and youth engagement.
Kristina Anderson, survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, urged an increased investment in mental health clinics in high schools and college, along with campaigns to de stigmatize mental health so youth feel comfortable getting the support they need. Other youth talked about the need for high-quality afterschool programs. Da’lonte Moore, a middle school student from Baltimore, said students need opportunities, internships and positive role models to expose youth to real job training.
When pressed further on the issue by Michael Smith, Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director of Cabinet Affairs for My Brother’s Keeper, one student said lack of transportation is another challenge, because students don’t have a reliable way to get to and from the programs. Trevon Simmons, a student at Luke C Moore Alternative High School, shared that in his community, a police station replaced the local Boys and Girls Club after dwindling enrollment because he and his peers couldn’t get their safely.
The need for youth to be active participants in their schools and communities was a constant theme throughout the meeting. The youth made it clear they wanted to be a voice in their schools and communities and to be a more engaged partner in shaping them to be safe and supportive places. One suggested way to accomplish this is for principals, school district superintendents and mayors to create student advisory councils where a broad representation of that population is included to improve outcomes for youth.
These youth have taken the pain and struggle that no human being should have to endure and turned it into a positive force to address gun violence at its root causes. Secretary Duncan’s first words to the students were “We have failed you as adults. We must not be complacent with this horrific status quo. It is our job as adult allies to support youth leaders in this endeavor.”
Sessions like this are a positive step in the right direction.
This session was a part of the ongoing “Student Voices” series at the Department through which students engage with senior staff members to help develop recommendations on current and future education programs and policies.
Samuel Ryan is a Special Assistant and Youth Liaison in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education.