March 24, 2018 was my 15th birthday and I am happy to say that I was able to spend it with my friends fighting for something important. I joined millions of people across the city, nation and world to march in protest of the recent school shootings at the March for Our Lives. Our march in Memphis began at Clayborn Temple and ended at the Civil Rights Museum, where we heard from local teenagers about their own experiences with gun violence and how guns have directly affected them.
As I stood there and listened, I was overwhelmed with sadness for the teenagers. I empathized with their experiences, but I was also overcome with disappointment — in my country, in my government. This disappointment culminated when Stephen Akins spoke of the shooting that killed two teenagers from Kingsbury High School, less than four miles away from St. Mary’s. How could I have been so unaware of a shooting that occurred in my own city? I had heard nothing about it, and it seemed I was not the only one; as he spoke, many surrounding me shared my confusion.
My disappointment and confusion grew into frustration when a group of young, LGBTQ+ girls shared their thoughts and feelings about gun violence in Orlando last year. They explained that a gunman had opened fire at Pulse, a primarily LGBTQ+ nightclub, killing 49 people, making it one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. These girls shared their frustration about not being able to be themselves without the fear of being persecuted. Although they were frustrated, I admired their strength. These girls expressed that they will never stop staying true to themselves, despite the hatred and violence their community has faced. Although I know I cannot fully fathom the complexity of their situation or fully feel the pain they endure on a daily basis, what I can do is stand by their sides in their fight for equality. No one should ever have to live in fear for being themselves.
Although I support and love the March For Our Lives, it’s crucial to acknowledge that we must not forget the lives of black men and women violently and prematurely brought to an end because of gun violence. When black men and women, young and old, were protesting against the injustice in our community, we were thrown in jail or labeled as “disruptors of the peace.” Even though we were and still are ultimately fighting for the same thing as March for Our Lives, Black Lives Matter has not garnered the same support from celebrities, media coverage, or general popular sentiment throughout the nation as March For Our Lives has. We cannot forget that black people have been fighting for justice and freedom from violence since the birth of our nation, yet it feels as though we are still three-fifths of a person. Give us the same support that we are giving March For Our Lives, because every single life matters.