Last week, Young People For (YP4) Director Joy Lawson, YP4 Fellowship Associate Vidushani Jayalal, and current YP4 Fellow Alyssah Roth of El Paso, TX, served as trainers during the pre-conference of the fifth annual “Take Root” reproductive justice conference in Norman, OK.
“Take Root” focuses on sharing the unique perspectives, experiences, and lessons learned from organizing around reproductive justice in conservative states. This year, YP4 developed and led the pre-conference to engage “Take Root” participants on guiding principles for social justice organizing. Participants took part in workshops and conversations on values-centered organizing, navigating ideologies in the reproductive justice movement, and more.
Additionally, several YP4 Fellows and alumni participated in the conference and led workshops and panels related to building access to the reproductive justice movement in under-resourced areas. After the workshops, many of the participants reflected that the trainings gave them “a vision of what they wanted to accomplish and what the process might look like.”
YP4 is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with others creating change across the country.
On Sunday two alumni of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program, Jamira Burley and Poy Winichakul, joined Melissa Harris-Perry on her MSNBC show to discuss activism among millennials. Both guests underscored the critical role young people have to play in today’s social and political movements.
“Right now there are not a lot of people who look like us in elected official positions, but we have so much potential,” said Winichakul. “I think we can take that leadership role. We can have a place to lead the country and share our perspective – to create policy.”
Later in the segment, Burley pointed out the extent to which young people are already engaged: “2012 actually marked the third election in a row where millennials came out more than 50 percent,” she said. “So people always say that we don’t vote, but we do. Numbers show it.”
What’s more, Burley said, young people are not only voting, they are staying engaged with leaders after they take office. “Not only are we electing people, we’re now putting precautions in place to hold them accountable,” she said. “And that means starting our own grassroots organizations, or calling them out on Twitter.”
Watch the full video here:
Last week, Young People For (YP4) staff attended the National LGBTQ Task Force’s National Conference of LGBT Equality, Creating Change.
Four alumni of YP4 programs — Michigan State Representative Jon Hoadley, National Director of Black Youth Project 100 Charlene Carruthers, Deputy Managing Director of United We Dream Felipe Sousa-Rodriguez, and Klagsbrun Outreach Fellow at Alliance for Justice Erik Lampmann — led a workshop entitled "Movement Family Across Struggles" for a group of college students. In their session, YP4 alumni shared experiences effecting social change and discussed best practices towards building movements that cut across communities, campuses, regions, and issues.
Realizing that working to create change on college campuses and within communities can often be an isolating experience, the participants identified tactics to build alliances with other community members to help win victories on their issues and campaigns.
Young People For (YP4) is a year-long leadership development program that helps a diverse set of young leaders to turn their ideals into actions and create lasting change on their campuses and in their communities. YP4 develops Fellows’ leadership capacity and strategic thinking through a capstone project — the Blueprint for Social Justice — and offers opportunities to connect with other young people and partner organizations creating change across the country.
With elections for tight races all across the country just a few days away, People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program is pulling out all the stops to help young voters get to the polls and cast their vote this November 4.
As overreaching new voter ID laws threaten to stifle the voices of Americans in a number of states, getting out the vote has never been more critical. YP4 Fellows and alumni have been working hard to ensure that students, people of color, women and other underrepresented communities get their equal say in our democratic system. Our 25 YP4 Vote Organizers are spread across the country in 15 states, working to conduct community outreach, voter engagement, and volunteer recruitment to help mobilize their communities to vote.
Throughout this year, YP4 activists have also advocated for resolutions to enfranchise student voters and increased the number of young registered voters by over 2,000 through dozens of trainings and events.
YP4 has dedicated itself this election cycle to helping young leaders make informed and motivated voters out of those who are routinely overlooked by politicians. In a year in which some lawmakers have sought to discourage voter turnout, campaigns like YP4’s ARRIVE WITH 5 initiative, which encourages voters to bring five or more friends to the polls, help shape a government that actually represents the governed.
The midterm election is no time to stay at home. In a campaign season of extremely narrow races, each and every vote has an impact. We can only make our democracy work for everyone when all Americans are encouraged to engage in civic life and realize what a real difference their voices can make.
Protesters throughout the nation have come out to march and peacefully protest the unjust criminal system that led to Michael Brown being gunned down in Missouri on August 9, including members of the People For the American Way Foundation family.
In Missouri, two members of PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network have taken key roles speaking out for justice. State Senator Maria Chappelle-Nadal and Alderman Antonio French were both part of the protests in Ferguson; Chappelle-Nadal was tear-gassed, and French was arrested. Other members of the YEO Network have also been organizing national petitions, marching, buying food and water for protestors, trying to dissuade looting, among other things.
Chappelle-Nadal, elected in 2010, represents part of St. Louis County in the Missouri Senate. She has been vocal in her criticism of Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and his response to the crisis in her community.
“I never expected to represent a war zone,” she tweeted Thursday.
French, on the other hand, has been documenting the protests through “advocacy journalism.” Born and raised in O’Fallon, French has dedicated his time in public service to improving the quality of life in north St. Louis, often working in conjunction with police to create safer spaces.
During the protests last Wednesday, French was arrested and then released early Thursday, but the reason behind the arrest remained unclear. His arrest, along with his work documenting the protests, have made him a “national voice against the militarization of police.”
In Miami, another PFAW Foundation voice joined the protests. Young People For alum Phillip Agnew, founder of the Dream Defenders, organized a similar demonstration to protest how “police departments around the country will continue to use black and brown bodies for target practice.”
Many Americans are appalled at the actions taken by law enforcement officials in Ferguson, Missouri this month. PFAW Foundation is proud of the work being done by members of our leadership networks to build a more equal America.
A successful movement begins with a plan for change. People For the American Way’s plan is simple: identify people with an interest and a passion for service who represent the diversity of their communities, equip them with the knowledge, skills and tools necessary for success, and offer long-term support and access to a network of like-minded leaders.
This summer’s primary elections prove this plan is not just theoretical. It stands up to the test. Its success can be seen last week in the state of Michigan — a prime battleground for state and national issues ranging from marriage equality to workers’ rights to women’s rights — where a group of young, progressive leaders won their primary elections.
One candidate for a Michigan House of Representatives seat is Jon Hoadley. He’s an openly-gay man, 30 years old, who is running for office for the first time. He’s also an alumnus of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Youth Leadership Programs – Young People For and the Front Line Leaders Academy. Last week Hoadley won his primary race for the District 60 seat in the Michigan State House of Representatives and, if he wins the general election in November, will become a member of the Young Elected Officials (YEO) Network.
And Hoadley is in good company. Last month PFAW Action Fund endorsed a slate of young progressive candidates through the Young Elected Progressives endorsement program. Together they represent a progressive direction for the state. PFAW is proud to support these leaders as they move towards the general election in November or toward future efforts to advance progressive values in Michigan.
If the 2014 primary elections and the slate of candidates, including Hoadley, running for office this year are an indication of the payoff of PFAW’s investment in young leaders, then we are off to a great start. It shows that what we have works. We’ve made real change. But it also proves the necessity of continued investment in progressive infrastructure to make a difference on these critical issues, now and in the long term.
We’re at a time when the influence of money in politics goes unchecked, access to the ballot box is challenged, and the far Right is becoming increasingly extreme, intolerant, and out of touch. The individuals endorsed in PFAW’s Young Elected Progressives campaign are standing up to defend and lead with the values of freedom, fairness, and equality for all.
The following is a guest blog by Beth Huang, 2010 Fellow of People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Last Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in two critical cases with major implications for working women. The Supreme Court ruled once again that corporations are people, this time conferring religious rights that trump workers’ rights to access full healthcare. In a dissent to the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby ruling, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted “that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Justice Ginsberg’s dissent reveals the real impacts of denying coverage of contraception for low-wage working women -- something the slim five-justice, all-male majority fails to comprehend.
To compound the attack on working women, five male Justices severely undermined the ability of care workers – 95 percent of whom are women – to collectively bargain in the case Harris v. Quinn. This assault on working people stems from the Justices’ view that the care workers in the case are not “real” public employees and thus the union cannot charge the appropriate agency fee to all of them for its bargaining services. This ruling serves the interests of anti-worker extremists at the expense of these invaluable workers who care for our families and our children.
It’s clear: a majority of Justices are trampling over the rights of working women. In light of these attacks, it’s time to organize for gender equity and economic justice for working women.
Back in 2010 when I was a student, Young People For helped me develop organizing skills that have led me to effectively advocate for and with women and workers. Through my work in student labor organizing as an undergraduate and since graduation, I have seen that workers’ rights are women’s rights, from having access to comprehensive healthcare to having a voice on the job. To build an economy that works for today’s students and youth, we need to organize locally and train new leaders in the broad effort to advance our agenda for gender equity and economic justice.
At the Student Labor Action Project a joint project of Jobs with Justice and the United States Student Association, we’re doing just that by building student power to advance an agenda that protects the rights of current workers and promotes a more just economy for students to enter when they graduate. Our campaigns focus on demanding funding for public higher education, which we know is a major source of good jobs and upward mobility for women and people of color; pushing back on Wall Street profits that fuel the student debt crisis; and raising the working conditions for Walmart workers, 57 percent of whom are women.
The Supreme Court’s decisions last week underscored the urgency of organizing for these changes. Women’s access to equal rights, power in the workplace, and comprehensive healthcare depends on it.
The following is a post by Gabriela De Golia, Advocacy Associate for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For program.
Last week, in a speech in support of a constitutional amendment to reduce the influence of big money on our political system, Majority Leader Harry Reid said, “No one should be able to pump unlimited funds into political campaigns.” On political spending, Sen. Reid noted, the “Koch brothers are in a category of their own.”
Indeed, the Koch brothers’ influence in shaping our national political dialogue is stronger than many realize. In March the Center for Public Integrity wrote about David and Charles Koch’s financial investments in colleges and universities—the nation-spanning “campus of Koch Brothers Academy.” By pouring millions into schools across the country, the Koch brothers bankroll academic programs to promote their economic and social ideologies. They champion regressive political philosophies and create a pipeline for youth to become engaged in conservative activism. In effect, the Koch brothers are leading a crusade to funnel young people into the conservative movement.
However, we in the progressive movement are also investing in our youth. Despite not having as much money as oil tycoons, key players in the progressive movement understand the power of youth and are fighting back with a long-term progressive infrastructure. Programs like Young People For (YP4) of People For the American Way Foundation provide young progressive leaders the tools to create systemic change, roll back conservative advances, reclaim our democracy, and fight for justice.
By teaching young adults to identify key issues in their communities, create concrete action plans, and mobilize others through organizing and advocacy, YP4 helps Millennial change-makers build power to win on progressive issues. For example, through our program’s Money in Elections campaign, young activists have held rallies, gathered petitions, protested banks, and spoken at national events in support of reclaiming our democracy. Ariel Boone, a 2009 YP4 Fellow, lead a successful campaign urging the University of California at Berkeley to divest $3.5 million out of Bank of America and reinvest these funds in a local bank that contributes millions to the surrounding community. Last year 2013 Fellow Brendien Mitchell spoke alongside Senator Bernie Sanders and other pro-democracy movement leaders at a rally to get big money out of politics on the steps of the Supreme Court. These are but a couple examples of how YP4 is supporting young people in taking a stand against corporate influence in our political system.
As YP4 enters its tenth year, we continue to recognize that to build a movement, you need to think long-term. From recruiting youth from marginalized communities into our Fellowship program, to assisting them in getting more voters to the polls through our voter engagement programs, to training them to run successful campaigns through our Front Line Leaders Academy, we support youth every step of the way of their leadership journey.
Often in conversations about politics and civic participation, young adults are afterthoughts, considered an “apathetic” audience that doesn’t vote. But Millennials are far more engaged than given credit for. In fact, today’s young adults are anything but disengaged. Despite being the first generation to be economically worse-off than their parents through no fault of our own, Millennials are far more likely to do community service than older generations. About half of us vote, and we currently account for over 20 percent of the voting-eligible population in the US – and that number is growing as more of us turn 18. We must constantly overcome conservatives’ best attempts to keep us from the polls, efforts which in themselves show how much power we hold over the political process – no one would try to disenfranchise us if we didn’t matter. And last but certainly not least, we are the most diverse and progressive generation in recent history.
Ironically, two individuals who spend enormous amounts of money to influence the civic lives of young adults represent political leanings at odds with much of the Millennial generation’s values. The Koch brothers singlehandedly influence the US political arena more than almost anyone else thanks to their nearly limitless pool of oil money. They are two of the most radical and influential right-wing leaders today who are attempting to abolish the minimum wage, get rid of Social Security, defund the Affordable Care Act, equate money with speech, and lead the transformation of American democracy into an oligarchy. As shown in the Center for Public Integrity report, in 2012 they gave nearly $13 million in tax-deductible donations to higher education institutions, including many that are often considered “liberal,” to promote their ideologies.
These contributions show that conservative leaders do understand the power of youth and the return they get from investing in youth leadership development opportunities. By shelling millions into programs for young conservatives since the 1970s and focusing on long-term capacity building rather than just mobilization during elections, conservatives see the fruits of their labor in congressional dysfunction and the weakening of our democratic processes.
But programs like YP4 are doing the work to turn this tide by developing young progressive leaders. As Andrew Gillum, Director of Youth Leadership Programs at People For the American Way Foundation, wrote earlier this year: “Investing in progressive young people is the key to ensuring our movement’s capacity to create and sustain social change for years to come.”
Creating change is hard and takes time, especially when up against big money like that of the Koch Brothers. But by investing in young people, the progressive movement can make a real difference in both the short and long terms. We simply cannot afford to not invest in youth.
The following is a guest post by Italia S. Aranda, a 2013 Fellow of affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) program.
Last year, people all over the United States spoke out like never before on why we need to fix this country’s broken immigration system. Undocumented mothers participated in acts of civil disobedience that led to their arrests, immigrant youth organized their communities with more energy than ever, and organizations all around the country joined forces to put pressure on Congress to reach a sensible solution. 2013 became the year when many families fought as one. We realized that what makes this movement different is not the fear, uncertainty, or struggles we face every single day as undocumented immigrants, but rather the strength, determination, and willingness that is born in our hearts.
As an undocumented immigrant who benefited from President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals process, or DACA, I am often asked why last year I fought harder than ever for comprehensive immigration reform. A world of possibilities opened up after being granted deferred action.Because of DACA, I now have a social security number and a two-year work permit. Not only am I now able to pursue my dream of going to medical school, but I’m now also able to travel safely around the country and go to bed each night knowing that for the next two years, the possibility of my deportation has drastically decreased.
But this is not the case for my parents, who don’t qualify for deferred action. DACA was meant to help DREAMers who have waited all of their lives to be able to give back to this country by earning degrees and joining the workforce. But immigration reform is not just about DREAMers. It is about remembering that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and entire families have always contributed to this country’s growth and success, regardless of immigration status or college degree.
I continue to fight for comprehensive immigration reform because my parents gave up some of their dreams so I could follow mine. My parents had me when they were only teenagers. They did not have the opportunity to finish high school, and although they wanted to go to college with all of their hearts, they suddenly had a family to sustain. So they began working – my mom as a seamstress, and my dad in any and all jobs he could get. But it was never enough, and when Mexico’s economy began to worsen they knew that they would never be able to afford an education for my brother and me in our home country. They saw education as a way out of poverty, as a way to end the cycle of monumental struggles that had affected our family for generations. But no one ever wakes up in the morning wanting to leave everything behind – your relatives, your friends, and everything you own – to become an undocumented immigrant.
For many immigrant families, uncertainty rules your life. This last holiday season alone, thousands of families had empty seats around the table. In some cases, their mom had been deported. In others, their dad was spending weeks, months, or even years in a detention facility. No one should have to go through that kind of pain.
The fight for comprehensive immigration reform is about more than a piece of legislation. It is a fight for human dignity and human rights. I continue to fight alongside millions of others so that our families no longer have to live through the uncertainty, the fear, and the injustice. I fight so my parents can one day follow their own dreams, so they can one day feel like human beings again.
Last week, Young People For (YP4) – a youth leadership program of PFAW Foundation – celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day by concluding its ninth annual National Summit for young progressive leaders. Over the span of four days, more than 130 YP4 Fellows went through extensive trainings, preparing them both for the community projects they will be leading this year and for life-long careers in the progressive movement.
From workshops on fundraising, communications, and coalition building to keynotes from civil rights leaders Phillip Agnew, Sofia Campos, and Lt. Dan Choi, Fellows left the Summit with the motivation and skills necessary to implement progressive change across the country. Many are already launching into projects to enroll peers in affordable health care, register young adults to vote, create leadership development programs for youth in their own communities, and more.
Concurrent with the National Summit, YP4 also celebrated the completion of its seventh annual Front Line Leaders Academy, a six month program providing those interested in greater civic participation the ability to learn from successful political campaign professionals. Nineteen Fellows received accreditation on a wide range of political skills – from designing a field campaign to effective public speaking – that they learned over the course of the program.
As the Supreme Court heard arguments today in McCutcheon v. FEC – a campaign finance case in which the Court will decide whether to strike down overall limits on direct political contributions – a great crowd of PFAW and allies rallied outside the Court in support of getting big money out of politics. From students and small business owners to members of Congress – including Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, and John Sarbanes – people from all backgrounds came together in support of protecting the integrity of our democracy.
PFAW Executive Vice President Marge Baker kicked off the speeches by painting a picture of the “people versus money” nature of the case:
Inside the court – right now – one wealthy man is asking for permission to pour even more money directly into political campaigns. But we’re here, too, and we have a different ask. We’re asking the justices to protect the integrity of our democracy. We’re asking them to protect the voices and the votes of ‘We the People’….We’re here today saying loud and clear: our democracy is not for sale.
Also speaking at today’s rally was Montgomery County Council Vice President Craig L. Rice, Maryland State Director of affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young Elected Officials Network. Rice spoke about the effect of campaign finance laws on young political candidates:
As a young minority elected official, let me tell you: this [case] is extremely troubling….Young minority candidates throughout this country are routinely outspent and therefore denied the ability to serve in elected roles….Money should not determine who serves in office.
Howard University student Brendien Mitchell, a fellow in affiliate PFAW Foundation’s Young People For program, talked about the importance of being able to hear the political voices of young people in the midst of voter suppression efforts and massive spending by the wealthy in our democracy:
What about the freedom of young Americans who cannot donate grandiose sums of money to political candidates?....We gather to say that this is our country. And that in a case of money versus people, the answer should be apparent: the people.
One of the highlights of the day was hearing from Moral Monday demonstration leader Rev. Dr. William Barber, II, president of the North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP and a member of PFAW’s African American Ministers in Action. Rev. Barber highlighted the millions of dollars Art Pope has poured into conservative projects and campaigns in his home state of North Carolina:
We [in North Carolina] know firsthand that when you undermine laws that guard against voter suppression, and you undo regulations on the ability for corporations and individuals to spend unchecked amounts of money to influence and infiltrate and literally infect the democratic process, it has extreme impacts.
Extreme impacts – and not only on the electoral process itself, but also on a whole host of issues shaping the lives of everyday Americans. Whether you care most about protecting voting rights, preserving our environment, or workers getting paid a livable wage, a political system where the super-rich can make six-digit direct political contributions harms us all.
And that’s why organizations and activists with focuses ranging from civil rights to environmental protection to good government issues came together today with a common message: our democracy is not for sale.
Recently The New York Times reminded us that Representative John Lewis is still marching on Washington, 50 years later.
On August 28, 1963, as the 23-year-old chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Lewis took the podium on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Tomorrow, as the 73-year-old representative from Georgia's 5th congressional district, he will commemorate the 50th anniversary of those remarks.
Representative Lewis returns to the podium as the sole surviving speaker from the March on Washington.
Here at YP4 we know that “justice for all” is an expansive idea that includes pushing for and protecting civil rights, women’s rights, LGBT equality and more. It means rededicating ourselves to the promise of vibrant, safe, democratic communities. It means fighting for a country where our voices are not drowned out by massive corporate spending to influence our elections. It means standing up to groups like ALEC which push extreme laws threatening the wellbeing of our communities, such as the “Stand Your Ground” laws that YP4 alumni like [Phillip] Agnew – leader of the Dream Defenders in Florida – have been fighting to change.
In other words, we know that “justice for all” is a promise that has yet to be realized.
Join us tomorrow as Representative Lewis and others once again bring the struggle for jobs, justice, and freedom back to the nation's capital. Check out MLKDREAM50 for information on the full week of events.
In what the Miami Herald is calling the “longest sit-in demonstration in recent memory,” a group of more than sixty young people called the Dream Defenders came to Florida Governor Rick Scott’s office last Tuesday and have not left.
Arriving at the Florida Capitol just a few days after George Zimmerman was acquitted, the group is pushing for a special legislative session to take up a Trayvon Martin Civil Rights Act which would repeal the state’s Stand Your Ground law and address racial profiling, the school-to prison pipeline, and more. Among the many young people in Gov. Scott’s office is Dream Defenders leader Phil Agnew, a 2005 graduate of PFAW Foundation’s Young People For (YP4) leadership development program, as well as eight to ten other current or former YP4 Fellows.
Agnew told the Miami Herald that the work is broader than their specific demands:
“It’s also about a paradigm shift,” Agnew said. “It’s about empowering the next generation.”
PFAW Foundation has been helping support the courageous young people at the Capitol in any way we can, from providing administrative and financial support – including meals – to sending video cameras to help document their experiences. Young People For Director Joy Lawson highlighted the sit-in in a Huffington Post op-ed and is leading a powerful photo campaign collecting statements of support for the Dream Defenders.
Together, we are showing the Dream Defenders, and the country, that young people are standing with them in this fight.
On June 5th, hundreds of students made their way to Capitol Hill to express their concerns and tell their personal stories about rising student debt. We wanted to bring attention to the federal student loan interest rate that is set to expire on July 1st. After meeting with and leaving information for over 120 Senate and House members, student advocates from affiliate Young People For, Campus Progress, and other youth organizations hope to have left an impact on the senators considering various plans to address the impending increase.
Students roaming the halls of the Senate and House offices were passionate and excited about their movement. In meetings with offices including Barbara Boxer’s (D-CA), students were encouraged to continue making noise about this issue, as public attention is a key factor in forcing a bipartisan solution. We were told that the public attention brought to the issue by President Obama’s campaign and 2012 State of the Union address was a key factor in passing the one year freeze that was enacted last summer. Although the president spoke to a group of students on Friday about the interest rates, the public attention to the matter is smaller than it was last year.
But student debt remains a pressing issue. The average college student graduates with roughly $26,000 in student debt, and doubling the interest rate would result in what the president referred to as a $1,000 tax hike each year for students. Over the course of four years, that’s $4,000 in addition to the initial loan amount. That is $4,000 that is not going towards stimulating the economy, preventing graduates from buying cars and houses, and forcing them to put off big decisions like moving out of their parents’ houses and starting families and lives of their own. This is something each student on the Hill echoed regardless of the degree to which they are personally affected by the student loan deficit. As the roughly 7 million students with student debt contemplate how they will face the reality of their futures, they are turning around and telling future generations something we were never told: It is not worth it. If you are incurring debt in your undergrad years, going to graduate school might be even further out of the question. As one student shared yesterday, “Masters degrees have become the new bachelors.” When students cannot afford the education needed to be hired for the jobs available, the effects are felt across the nation. We now have less than one month to ensure that students are not incurring even more unnecessary debt that does nothing for our economy but hold us back.
Intern for affiliate People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program
By Jamira Burley
Alumna, PFAW Foundation's Young People For Program
Eight years ago, in 2005, I was just a normal high school student. I faced my share of adversity, but nothing I thought I couldn't handle -- even after the repeat incarcerations of both my parents and all 10 of my older brothers. That is, until I received a phone call that changed not only the way I viewed the world, but also my place within it.
My 20-year-old brother Andre was shot and killed one month before his 21st birthday. His death devastated my family and still continues to hold a dark shadow over our lives today.
What continues to surprise and sadden me to this day is the fact that my brother isn't the first or the last. Why? Every single day in America, news stories flash snapshots of lives that once were. Years of a young person's life are funneled down to less than two paragraphs in the back pages of a newspaper. Burial plots are assigned and soon the names are forgotten in the media. Those lives are only remembered by the ones that loved them most and the heavy tombstone, bearing witness to the lives they once lived.
Stories like these are happening every single day in America, where young people are dying before they are even old enough to vote; where the price of leaving your home may mean death.
We lose more Americans to violence on our own city streets than on the battlegrounds of war. We have made kid soldiers out of our youth, criminals out of the disadvantaged, and funeral attendees out of us all.
Guns are becoming more accessible than textbooks and supermarkets. Yet we continue to serve them up to the unfit and unqualified, which is resulting in mass murders and mass shootings.
This begs the question: what can and must be done?
Young people, especially black men and boys, are being killed in our classrooms and city streets. The selling of fire arms to criminals is placing our family members, neighbors, classmates and coworkers at risk. In some states anyone can walk in to a gun show without an ID and purchase a firearm. That means a criminal or an unfit person could have access to a gun with 10 rounds or 100.
In addition to closing the private sale loophole, the following measures must be put in place if we want to stop one more person from falling victim to a bullet:
• Fix the gun check system in a way that will allow enforcement agencies to upload and share current and accurate information.
• Require ID and background checks for all gun purchases.
• Make gun trafficking a federal crime.
• Create common-sense laws that address what type of guns should be in the hands of average Americans.
• Address the high rate of crime in urban communities.
• Increase positive mental health accessibility without stigmatizing those who need and want it.
• Recognize that in urban communities, violence is related to a lack of economic opportunities and a hopelessness mentality among youth that needs to be addressed.
No one is saying that guns have to be eliminated, but like most other potentially dangerous things in America, restrictions need to be put in place for the sake of safety. Many of us agree that background checks and ID requirements are needed, and Americans are united in the belief that support for the Second Amendment goes hand in hand with keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
My brother Andre and many others have been killed because of the lack of safeguards in place to protect their fundamental right to live. As an alumna of Young People For and a member of the Roosevelt Institution Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, both programs that empower young leaders to create lasting change in our communities, I know that inaction is not the answer. We can no longer sit on the side lines and allow gun lobbyists to place band aids on gunshot wounds. We need and must demand common-sense gun violence prevention measures.
The probability of another death increases every second we hesitate.
This weekend People For the American Way Foundation’s Young People For Program held its 2013 National Summit in Washington, DC. Attended by 117 young leaders from 64 different universities, this year’s Summit – “Creating Change that Lasts” – was a smashing success.
Student leaders attended workshops on topics ranging from budgeting to media outreach to succession planning. In addition to the 2013 student leaders, nearly fifty alumni from past years returned to support the weekend’s events. Presidential Medal of Freedom award recipient Dolores Huerta, women's rights advocate Sandra Fluke, and associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement Ronnie Cho all joined as guest speakers.