Our conversation with Alex King builds on the experiences and ideas he shared in his speech at the Washington, D.C. March for Our Lives, including his activism on behalf of his peers, his personal experience with gun violence, and his hope for the future. This short article opens with an excerpt from Alex’s speech, followed by a Q&A with TT Associate Editor Julia Delacroix.
Good afternoon, family.
Yes, I said family.
I said family because we are here joined together in unity fighting for the same goals. I say family because of all the pain that I see in the crowd. And that pain is another reason why we are here. Our pain makes us family. Us hurting together brings us closer together to fight for something better. My name is Alex King. I am 17. I am a senior at North Lawndale College Prep, as well as a Peace Warrior and a leader with Good Kids, Mad City.
Chicago has been at the forefront of gun violence for a very long time, with 650 people being murdered in the year of 2017 and 771 being murdered in the year of 2016. But that’s not it. Gun violence travels in places like Florida, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles—it happens nationwide.
I know many people who have lost loved ones, friends and family, on a regular basis due to gun violence. My nephew, Daishawn Moore—he was taken away on May 28 in the year of 2017, two weeks after his 16th birthday.
The day I lost my nephew was a huge turning point in my life. I started doing a lot of bad things, hanging around a bad crowd. I started to really give up. But there’s this principle by Dr. King and it states: “The beloved community is the framework for the future.” What that means is how our community is now is how it will be affected in the future if we don’t make a chance.
If we’re not acting like a family now, we won’t act like a family in the future. If pain is in our community now, pain will forever be in our community in the future if we don’t make a change.
Our community has been affected by gun violence for so long and will continue to be affected by it if we don’t do something. But, through my friends and colleagues, I found help to come up out of a dark place. Everyone doesn’t have the same resources and support system, as I was lucky to have.
Myself and a few other Peace Warriors were able to take a trip to visit Parkland students and share our trauma with one another. We left not only knowing that we would support one another but also realizing that without the proper grassroots resources, this issue of violence will not be solved. And we will not stop until we are properly resourced in our communities.
So, family, let’s continue to fight for what’s right.
For our readers who don’t know, can you share a little about Peace Warriors?
Peace Warriors is an organization within and beyond school that helps keep peace at our school. We interrupt nonsense, we interject with loving kindness and we are ambassadors of peace. And just last year we moved from not only in the school, but outside of the school into our community to teach [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s principles of nonviolence.
How would you describe your experience speaking at the March for Our Lives rally?
Overwhelming. It was amazing. It was a lot of excitement because for once in a very long time I was actually being heard by many people.
In your speech, you said, "We will not stop until we are properly resourced in our communities." What should those resources look like?
We [at Peace Warriors] are focused on investments in mental health services, like getting more counselors in our school and more mental health centers in our community, so the kids, —children, young adults—the youth can have someone to talk to when the have been exposed or impacted by trauma.
[Trauma] is deeply disturbing, especially an event that happens to you, and with trauma comes a lot. And putting trauma on top of stress and on top of anger—it's never a good combination. So the youth need someone they can talk to when they are going through whatever they are going through and whatever they feel like they can't talk about.
You said that at the rally you were “actually being heard.” Is that issue—people not listening, people not hearing—something that you’ve faced before in your life and your activism?
I was a victim of violence and trauma, and when I wanted to talk about my problems and wanted to just tell someone how I feel, I felt that nobody was there. Every year that I've been in North Lawndale, I've had a different counselor. ... How do you expect me to talk to somebody about my problems when I don't know them?
You’re doing this work as you complete your senior year of high school and work a job outside of school. What motivates you to continue?
This work is important because of the lives that have been lost due to gun violence and violence in general. And I do this work because I am focused on more than just me. I’m focusing on the next generation, the coming generation after that.
Do you have recommendations for things educators can do in their classrooms and school buildings to support the work you’re doing?
The advice I would give them is just, not to only focus on your job, but focus on the students. And then focus on what they go through on a daily basis inside and outside of school. Think about them. Keep that in mind, that these students, these children that you have—[they] have lives outside of school that you do not know of. And realize awareness of the fact that we all are human and we all have our days. So just sit and talk to them.
Delacroix is an associate editor for Teaching Tolerance.