It was 4 a.m. and still pitch black out. We were barely awake. But we were ready.
MTV, together with the NAACP, sent 17 buses of young people from communities impacted by gun violence around the U.S. to participate in the #MarchForOurLives in Washington, D.C. These 17 buses represented the 17 young lives lost in the Parkland shooting. Lady Gaga sponsored the bus we’d travel on from Harlem, and despite the early hour, we were ready to be heard.
First, the amazing young people of Street Corner Resources, along with myself, gathered at their headquarters to make sure we were stocked with snacks and drinks for the day, as well as signs and banners to hold at the rally. Street Corner Resources, or SCR, is a nonprofit with a mission “to eliminate gun and gang violence and create a more peaceful community” for youth in Harlem, New York. Since its inception in 2005, SCR has provided 16-to 24-year-olds with “access to real employment, education, training, and other resources to assist them as they strive for success.” Young people can be linked with Professional Mental Health Services (PMHS) through SCR, and channel their creative energy in the I am Peace Music Studio or at the open mic nights at their Peace Cafe. Their team includes outreach workers, violence interrupters, and hospital responders.
After talking through the logistics of the day ahead of us, Outreach Supervisor Arthur Durham and Administrative Coordinator Abdul Kareem-Muhammad spoke to us about how to best be a presence of peace in what could potentially be a hectic environment. And just like that, we were on the bus and on our way.
Our first stop in D.C. was at the NAACP headquarters where we convened with all the other groups that are a part of NAACP Youth and College Division. It was so amazing to see this many young people so ready to fight to make their communities as safe and as great as they know they can be. Very shortly after being led in some chants by a few NAACP leaders, we were out in the world and on our way to the main rally.
My most vivid memory is seeing the Capitol Building in the distance over the heads of thousands and thousands of people as the speakers echoed Andra Day singing “Rise Up.” Along the sidewalks, the cherry blossoms were in bloom, and there was such a special energy in the air.
Although an official number as to how many protesters attended the rally has not yet been released, there’s no doubt the crowd was one of the largest in D.C.’s history. And yet, every single person would turn their attention to the stage to hear what powerful words these speakers had to say. We watched and listened as Parkland students, 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, Yolanda Renee King (MLK Jr.’s granddaughter), and many more spoke of the world they know to be possible, a world where they can learn and grow without fear. Amazing musical moments echoed these sentiments. Lin Manuel Miranda, Miley Cyrus, Demi Lovato, and Ariana Grande are just a few who took to the stage to be a voice for the people: people like the 5-year-olds holding signs on their parents shoulders, people like the elderly couple who have been coming to rallies for this exact issue years before it grabbed headlines, and people like those from the SCR.
As we made our way to streets where the crowds were thinner, everyone wanted to ask what group we were from, and we wanted to know who they were representing. It was inspiring and comforting to realize just how many organizations are working tirelessly to make the goals of this movement become a reality. The CEO and founder of SCR, Iesha Sekou, led the way as we walked around and thanked everyone we passed for simply being there. She’d begin to speak about gun violence and what we can do about it, and an audience would form like magic. She’d lead crowds in chants of SCR’s initiative’s; “I AM PEACE” and “SPEAK PEACE FORWARD.”
I think these phrases encapsulate what it was like to be there that day and the message of #MarchForOurLives as a whole. The feeling of knowing that every single person was there because they just want a world with more peace is one I can barely describe. There is a need for safer communities, and it is one held by everyone, regardless of financial standing, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, or anything else.
At the rally, we were all united in what felt like a celebration of life, the celebration of the world that we all know is possible, the world we are all committed to creating together. One of my favorite quotes is from author Marianne Williamson: “Hope is born of participation in hopeful solutions.” I have never felt more hopeful about the future, of our country, and our world.