On Thursday March 14th, youth from SSYP joined young leaders from around Massachusetts who stood in front of the Smith and Wesson headquarters in Springfield, where the assault weapons used in the Parkland, Aurora and San Bernardino shootings were produced. Teens traveled by bus from Boston, car pools from Holyoke, and by foot from Springfield, walking the quarter of a mile from Springfield Central High School. They led over 200 youth educators, faith leaders, and allies in asking Smith and Wesson’s CEO, P. James Debney, to meet with students and become an industry leader in addressing gun violence in this country. Boston student leader Ekran Sharif said, “This gun [Smith and Wesson M&P-15] was never intended to be used by civilians. We are here at Smith and Wesson to demand that executives from Smith and Wesson engage directly with us, specifically with youth leaders, about how their company will be part of the solutions to end gun violence.”
These students come from the urban neighborhoods in our state where gun violence occurs not only as a headline grabbing phenomenon, but as a fact of their daily reality. "But any effort toward solutions — and what are we all doing, post-Parkland, if not seeking solutions? — must address urban violence, too," said Ekran Sharif, 17, a student at Edward M. Kennedy Academy for Health Careers in Boston. “We don’t see this in the current debate,” she said. “The death of a child in Springfield or Boston matters just as much as the death of any child from Parkland. The trauma of losing a loved one is just as great no matter if it’s Sandy Hook or Chicago.”
Their action at Smith and Wesson in Springfield is part of a national moment and movement against the gun violence that is nothing new for so many of them. Many of these young leaders were heart-broken and outraged when tragedy struck in Dorchester and reverberated through the communities where Jorge Fuentes had been a part of in Boston and beyond. Jorge was shot and killed outside his home while walking his dog in September of 2012. His senseless murder galvanized those who knew him to take action to prevent future gun violence; together with then Bishop M. Thomas Shaw of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts they formed The B-PEACE for Jorge Campaign, the diocese's ongoing effort to address the underlying roots of violence.
While not new for the B-PEACE for Jorge leaders, the issue of gun violence has never captured the public’s attention in quite this way before. Last Saturday, these same B-PEACE young people and adult allies were marching alongside hundreds of thousands of others in the streets in Boston and Washington, DC. At the Boston March for Our Lives, members of The B-PEACE for Jorge campaign showed up wearing the purple shirts and white buttons emblazoned with Jorge’s face that they have been wearing in his honor for years. In Washington, D.C., Emma Gonzalez’s powerfully moving speech was particularly resonant for Boston teens who had traveled there for the action. As Gonzalez spoke about the urgency of taking action to end gun violence in our streets and in our schools, they could see she was wearing on her jacket the same B-PEACE for Jorge button they wear every day.
To follow the lead of young people in our neighborhood and across the country in this movement to end gun violence, join B-PEACE for Jorge teens in local actions and campaigns. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.
By Sarah O'Connor, Lead Teen Organize