A March For Our Lives activist in Newark wants communities of color to be listened to

Mar 26, 2018

Young voices took center stage on Saturday in the March For Our Lives, a show of force by students unseen, most likely, since the Vietnam War protests.

Children and young adults came out in droves to decry the recent mass shootings in Parkland, Florida, Silver Springs, Maryland, and others. But for many communities of color, the newfound public attention on this issue is bittersweet.

Student-activist Jahne Benthall, 17, in Newark, New Jersey, took a prominent role in getting her fellow students to protest violence endemic in her city. She decided to use March For Our Lives as a platform to highlight the difficulties people like her face in getting the public’s attention.

Two people in my school had family members involved in the shooting that happened in Florida. And so they were telling me about it and saying how they wish that we can do something here.

It struck a lightbulb in my head. That I can actually do something for them — liberating for them.

I think it was because I wanted to give those students who were affected personally by the shooting an outlet, saying that we’re behind them and support them.

I feel like a lot of people don’t talk about gun control until it happens in places, in schools in Florida — predominantly white spaces. I think it’s something that is common here. I feel like gun control is a constant conversation that we have here in Newark.

There isn’t much of a discussion of gun control when black students are getting shot everyday here, outside of homes. But it becomes a topic of conversation when people in Florida get shot and killed. So that’s why a lot of people in Newark were against protesting, because it’s like, "Well, what about us when we’re in trouble? And what about us when things happen to us?"

Everything that we had was pretty much donated. We didn’t get a lot of government funding, but everything we did was very community based. And so I think that was also good for us as well.

I know big things aren’t going to happen fast, so it’s just the little things. Getting rid of ignorant comments like, "Teachers should hold guns" and things like that makes me hope to see a difference. I just want to see a small difference in the way that government officials talk about the way gun control affects communities. And I hope that people-of-color communities, such as Newark, are going to be more included in the topic of conversation rather than just other wealthy "superior" groups. I just want minority groups to be a part of the conversation.

We’re always being killed by guns and our lives are always being taken by guns, so this is how we can help stop these things.

I’m very proud of what I did today, and I think that this will help me continue to move and do more outside of school and into city hall.

I’m feeling really empowered right now, really amazed at the turnout that has come — there’s a lot of people here. And I’m just amazed at the amount of support that we have right now including police officers and government officials. It’s amazing to me.

As told to Asher Stockler.

This story first aired on PRI's The Takeaway.

From The Takeaway ©2017 PRI and WNYC