My best friend just turned eighteen. I have known her for nine years but all I can think about is how tight she now hugs me when she says goodbye, or that ever since Charlotte died she says “I love you” a lot more, and really means it. New Years Eve will always be the night when Charlotte was shot in her own home. That means every other day reminds me why we must act—vote, organize, educate, and support the movement to reduce gun violence and prevent it in the future. And when successes in the movement are not enough and the tragedy and the violence seems never ending, I must remember my faith in universal love and connection to a goal much greater than any individual or demographic.
I have been working with March For Our Lives for over a year now, both at the state level in Maryland and with the D.C. chapter for different events on Capitol Hill. March For Our Lives is a gun violence prevention organization that was founded after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Last year, as a senior in high school I organized a walkout at my school and later was appointed to the MFOL State Team as a field strategist. We lobbied in Annapolis, and work with different gun violence prevention groups such as Marylanders To Prevent Gun Violence and the national Everytown for Gun Safety on legislative strategy and community outreach. We are also in the process of further developing our state chapter’s coalition with other student-led organizations in Baltimore to address different types of gun violence.
I know it will always be easier to promote justice to the accessible, more palatable stakeholders while ignoring the most affected, but that makes equitable organizing and genuine relationship-building so much more important. I got involved to be a part of a movement that understands the disproportionate impact and promotes change for ALL of us, and there is always room for improvement. I am involved because my friends at Baltimore City College live in an area known solely for its soaring crime rate and countless homicides. I worked on the state team and spearheaded coalition-building because different student organizers in Baltimore have been seeking change since before the March For Our Lives even existed.
It is always easier to settle. We settle in our faith or in our jobs or in our daily routine. It is encouraged, in fact, that we settle and be complacent in times of fear. However, diving into discomfort is what influences justice overall, in my own life and to the people around me. Even when hope seems lost, with tragedy after tragedy, when our very own 6th Principle’s goal of world community seems so distant or impossible, I am reminded of God’s love and the concept of radical kinship. Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries—the largest gang rehabilitation program in the world—lives the message of radical kinship. He says that true kinship isn’t about serving the other but being with the other. We often want to be charitable to “those” people or seek to help “the poor,” but true justice is achieved when we understand our dependence on one another’s freedom.
I know that God is love and my faith is compassion and I believe that this love has the power to heal and transform. I know this love exists in magnitudes so great that it cannot be described in an earthly manner. Different influential Unitarian Universalist leaders and my own friends who organize events for good causes are putting that love into action. And I know that through organizing to combat gun violence I am living my faith, and supporting UU principles, because like UUA President Susan Frederick-Gray said, “This is no time for a casual faith.”
In the U.S. approximately 100 people die from guns every day. Children are murdered before they go off to college or finish elementary school. I am empowered from the teachings of radical kinship and universal love. I hope to always embrace discomfort and opposition if it means that the work we do is contributing to justice. I hope to embrace discomfort when organizing, because the immense trauma and pain weaved into this movement can be overbearing and exhausting. But most of all I hope to embrace discomfort, because my own peace is achieved through living compassionately and I am strengthened with each action taken to uplift that compassion. But most of all, I know God exists because my best friend is still here, and will be leaving for college at one of her top-choice schools, and I know that God is so incredibly big because of the hundreds of thousands of grassroots organizers across the country putting their faith into strategic action towards change.
“Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe of what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgement for how they carry it”
—Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries