Yolanda Renee King, the granddaughter of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., is an activist and eighth-grader.
I am 14 years old, and once again I am afraid. Two major mass shootings in 10 days. In Buffalo, our elders, many of whom share the same complexion as me, were gunned down while simply shopping for groceries. In Uvalde, Tex., 19 children not too much younger than me were murdered in their school.
Enough is enough.
Most people won’t take a 14-year-old seriously when it comes to addressing gun violence. What do I know, right? Well, I know when it is time for change. I know it is my duty as an American to use the platform given to me by my grandparents’ sacrifices to uplift the voices of my peers. It is my duty to speak up as a child who lost both her grandfather and great-grandmother to gun violence. For too long, voices like mine have gone ignored.
Adults reading this, I urge you to close your eyes and imagine going to school every day wondering whether you and your classmates are next. The fear, anxiety and frustration are overwhelming. We can’t just be kids anymore. Every loud noise in the hallway, every outburst is a reminder. Children who look like me and children who look like your loved ones are all scared. We think about our hopes and dreams being snatched away by a bullet. To people in Washington this might sound cliche, but as kids, that’s what we’re taught. We can do anything we set our minds to, until we suddenly can’t anymore.
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A staggering number of children have lost their futures to American gun violence. Just before the shootings in Uvalde, many of those students celebrated their academic achievements. They almost made it to the end of the school year.
Maybe it’s hard for politicians in Washington to imagine the impact these shootings have on students because it doesn’t impact them directly. It seems like every month my parents and I talk about a new piece of legislation that gains traction and media coverage but ultimately fails. My generation feels powerless against the special interests and extremists who refuse to acknowledge that something must change. But common sense must prevail. To put it bluntly, “thoughts and prayers” are helpful only after you take action.
Day in and day out, people invoke my grandfather when it’s convenient. Many people fail to remember his words that go against their agendas. My grandfather’s most important message was to wake up and take part in the action and the passion of our times. I talked about this at the national cathedral in January on the celebration of his birthday. But we can’t look only to the past to solve the problems of tomorrow. We can look to his words for inspiration and guidance, but my generation must be willing to stand up.
I do not want to walk into school afraid anymore. I want to be a teenager. I have read a lot of my grandfather’s sermons and speeches, and there is one that comes to mind in the wake of this tragedy: “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.” That is our call to action.
In recent years, I’ve worked to use my grandparents’ legacy to encourage my generation to stand up, especially when it is difficult. It is past time for us to demand change. The voices of the grieving have fallen on the ears of elected officials who do not care. I look around my school, and I see potential for all of us to do great things.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” — words my grandfather lived by. We, too, must strive to drive out hate in this country, and that begins with action in honor of those families who mourn today.