As the nation grieves over two mass shootings that killed eight people near Atlanta, Georgia, and left 10 dead in Boulder, Colorado, today marks the anniversary of America’s largest march against gun violence.
Back on March 24, 2018, the student-led March for Our Lives drew millions of protestors to the nation’s capital and sparked solidarity marches across the country and world.
The event was birthed from the deadly massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018. An expelled former student, armed with a semiautomatic rifle, fired hundreds of rounds that took the lives of 17 students and faculty.
In the aftermath, a group of courageous young survivors of the massacre boldly spoke out, organized and demanded legislation and action from elected officials. They embarked on a bus tour, established local and state chapters, and collaborated with advocacy groups such as Everytown for Gun Safety and Color of Change.
Today, the March For Our Lives movement continues with some of its founders, yet the movement that made the students famous has broadened. The organization has embarked on a larger transformative justice process to build an inclusive movement rooted in lived experience and racial solidarity.
Among the March for Our Lives team-members are two young Black women who recently discussed their activism and passion for change with ESSENCE.
Ariel Hobbs, 23, has history with March for Our Lives. In 2018, she helped co-organize the Houston, Texas rally, which was one of the largest sister marches in the country. She’s also served on the board, helped develop the 2019 “Our Power” youth summit, and traveled with peers on the “Road to Change” tour.
Hobbs is currently the Aid and Alliance program coordinator at March For Our Lives. The Aid and Alliance program seeks to build strong, genuine relationships between MFOL chapters and local organizations; provide mutual aid support and create an impact in struggling communities.
“I’m drawn to this work of violence prevention as a Black woman living in America. We don’t always get the same level of investment and the platforms to talk about our trauma, experiences and pain,” said Hobbs, a 2020 University of Houston graduate. “I want to be a voice for my community and change the face of what the gun violence prevention movement looks like.”
Despite being disproportionately affected by gun violence and organizing against it the longest, experts say Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) have not historically received the resources and support attained by white organizations in the gun violence prevention movement.
Thandiwe Abdullah, a 17-year-old Freshman at Howard University and longtime community organizer agrees. The California native is active with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles and fights to end police violence. She has also worked to create safe spaces for Black youth to organize around racism and anti-Blackness, especially in schools.
Abdullah is now a mobilizations organizer at March for Our Lives.
“We’ve been hearing that Black and Brown communities have not had the resources to fight gun violence, even though they’re exposed to it everyday,” she said. “And people seem to want this issue to be aesthetically pleasing, packaged with a pretty little bow. But gun violence work can be radical and aggressive. The more diversity we have in organizations, the more we can make the solutions as equitable as possible.”
Alexis Confer, executive director of March For Our Lives, expressed in a statement that the organization “is on a journey to truly support and center the people and communities most impacted by gun violence.”
To that end, the Aid & Alliance effort will distribute nearly $500,000 in mutual aid funds to BIPOC organizers and activists around the U.S. Through the program, MFOL chapters nationwide will be able to engage in mutual aid at the community level, and organizations in select cities will be able to apply for grant funds directly from the national organization for anti-gun violence work.
BIPOC organizers, activists and organizations in eight metro regions can apply for an unrestricted grant of $8,000 through Aid & Alliance to support ongoing violence prevention work in their communities. Those regions are: Baltimore and the DC/Maryland/Virgina Metropolitan region; Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Memphis, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and St. Louis. The organization said applications will be accepted and reviewed throughout spring 2021, and funds will be released this summer.
“Last year we saw fewer mass shootings as a result of COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings, but the epidemic of everyday gun violence revealed itself to the nation,” said Confer, noting 41,000 gun deaths in 2020.
This moment, she believes, calls for a bold and transformative approach to addressing gun violence and its root causes.
“It requires solidarity and strong communities. We can only win this fight by working together.”