On Thursday, Moms Demand Action, the grassroots arm of Everytown for Gun Safety, a movement “of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence,” announces its first Executive Director, Angela Ferrell-Zabala.
Ferrell-Zabala, who is also the first Black woman to lead the organization, was formerly Senior Vice President for Movement Building at Everytown and Moms Demand Action. Prior to Everytown, she served as the National Director of Strategic Partnerships for Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
Ferrell-Zabala is an outspoken advocate against gun violence and specifically its disproportionate impact on communities of color. These are often the “shooting tragedies that don’t always make the news: daily gun violence that disproportionately impacts Black and Brown Americans, firearm suicides, police violence and unintentional shootings by children.”
According to the nonprofit organization, Brady, “[g]un violence is a racial justice issue,” and it “reduces the life expectancy of Black Americans by four years.” Further “Black Americans are twice as likely as white Americans to die from gun violence and 14 times more likely than white Americans to be wounded. A documented 4,084 Black people were lynched in 73 years; 93,262 were shot dead in 14. Like lynching, gun violence is a racial justice issue.”
Ferrell-Zabala is also getting support in her new role.
“I’ve been grateful to have Angela by my side for the past four years as both a colleague and a friend, and I know Moms Demand Action will thrive with her new guidance and leadership,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “Angela is a lifelong organizer who understands that the grassroots volunteers and gun violence survivors who do the hard work day in and day out are the backbone of this movement. As I prepare to step back from my leadership role at Moms Demand Action, I know Angela is the right person to have stepping up.”
Congresswoman Lucy McBath– whose son Jordan Davis was murdered by an armed white man in Florida in 2012, the same year Trayvon Martin was shot and killed– also lended her support.
“As a gun violence survivor and gun safety advocate turned Congresswoman, I know the profound impact Moms Demand Action has made on the political landscape in this country,” she shared. “I’m confident that Angela is the right person to bring this grassroots powerhouse into its next chapter, and I look forward to Moms Demand Action’s continued leadership in this fight.”
Ahead of stepping into her newly minted Executive Director role, Ferrell-Zabala sat down with ESSENCE to discuss her path to joining in on the fight against gun violence and what she hopes to accomplish as the first Black woman to hold this position.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
ESSENCE: How did you get into this work?
Social justice movements are not new to me. I’ve been part of organizing for at least 20 years of my life, and I think a lot of that really came from my upbringing and looking at my mother. While she wasn’t a professional organizer, she certainly did work with members of the community and was always trying to figure out and tackle some of the issues or problems with a neighborhood or community and use her resources.
I learned really early on that we can’t just wait for someone to save us, we have to jump into action, so I come out of organizing, deep in my heart. I’m a person of faith. I’m a mother of four, and I’m really inspired every day by everyone who gets up and does this important work on behalf of our children and our families in our community. This is a hard fight, but I’m ready to roll up my sleeves and get to work on an issue that could not only help my community, but also the masses because this is such an issue in our country.
ESSENCE: Can you tell me more about the work that you hope to accomplish and how you felt realizing you were going to be the first Black woman in this role?
I’m really excited about Moms Demand Action, it was launched 10 years ago at a time when this issue was what we call the third rail of politics. No one wanted to touch it, even Democrats, and it has grown since then.
We’re looking at all forms of gun violence, not just the school shootings that make the news, but the daily gun violence—when we think about Black and brown communities, this is something that is happening every day.
We know over 120 people every day are shot and killed. We have over 200 people that are left wounded and surviving holding the trauma of this. We’re in 50 states plus the District of Columbia, and we’re moms, we’re students, we’re veterans, we’re gun owners, we’re faith leaders, we’re teachers, nurses, doctors, and the list goes on.
I’m really proud to be stepping in when we’ve done so much work over the past 10 years and stepping into this new role as the first Black woman to lead Moms Demand Action, which I think is really important for many reasons.
This is really a reflection of where we are in this country as a movement. I know that representation matters, it’s going to continue to disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, especially Black children, and it’s really important to recognize that the movement was built on the activism led by Black women and Black mothers for decades.
Black children and teens are 10 times more likely than white children and teens of the same age to die by gun homicide, so this is something that we see as an issue. We have come such a long way, and I think this is important given the disproportionate impact, to demonstrate that we are here with our community showing up and we’re pushing for the solutions that we know are going to matter and end gun violence in our communities across the country.
ESSENCE: Do you think that gun violence is an issue that can be solved in this lifetime in this country?
The way we look at this is piece by piece, person by person, community by community, so the answer for me is yes. I think there are common sense solutions with a lot of the problems that we have when we talk about gun violence. Again, I’m going to point to the fact that Black people in particular and communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the violence and oftentimes, they can offer a lot of the solutions.
We really need to look at resourcing communities, and at Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, we’ve been proud to work in partnership with a lot of groups that are on the ground and hyper local that are addressing the issues, even neighborhood by neighborhood. So yes, the answer is a resounding yes.