We live in a world that constantly tells young people that “we” are the future, and in doing so, we forget about the contribution that young Americans can make today. However, young people cannot make that immediate or eventual difference if there are endless barriers to their success.
Since the murder of my brother Andre in 2005, I have worked to prevent my peers from experiencing the same adversities that I did. Whether that means training the next generation of city leaders through my job at the Philadelphia Youth Commission, or meeting with members of Congress regarding common-sense gun legislation.
My entire life, I was surrounded by people who could not see beyond their own zip code; people who did not know how to be more because no one in their family ever was. That is why I am honored and appreciative to be selected as a White House Champion of Change for Gun Violence Prevention.
I accept this recognition not for myself but for every person who stands beside me in this work. We recognize, that everyone is affected by gun violence and if we are going to prevent another young American from losing his or her life to the barrel of a gun, we have to work together.
Recently I had the pleasure of building and collaborating with young people from all over the country in February at a national youth summit on gun violence prevention with Generation Progress. The summit gather more than 120 Millennials from Newtown, CT, to Chicago, IL, and it was really one of the first times for youth to look at violence from a holistic point of view. Now we are more prepared to advocate on issues of gun violence, not just as an urban problem but as a national problem, a human problem.
Nine years ago I did not choose this work, it chose me.
I like to think that I was a pretty normal student. Like many, I faced my own share of adversities, but nothing I thought I could not handle—even after the repeat incarcerations of both my parents and all 10 of my older brothers. That is, until I received a phone call that changed not only the way I viewed the world, but also my place within it.
CREDIT: Jamira Burley.
My brother Andre was murdered one month before his twenty-first birthday. Since Andre’s murder, stories like his continue to happen every single day in our country. Where young people are dying before they are even old enough to vote; where the price of leaving your home may mean death. Our streets are battlegrounds, where we have made kid soldiers out of our youth, criminals out of the disadvantaged, and funeral attendees out of all of us.
Thirty-three Americans die every day because of guns. Guns are becoming more accessible than textbooks and supermarkets. Yet, we continue to serve them up to the unfit and unqualified, resulting in mass murders and mass shootings. So I ask: what can and must be done?
Shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, as a member of the Roosevelt Institute, Millennial Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, we developed a list of policy recommendations addressing gun violence in America. I also have the privilege of helping to lead the Philadelphia youth engagement strategy for the National Forum for Youth Violence Prevention and Cities United.
Cities United is an initiative created by Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (D) and New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D), with a goal to reduce the homicide rate for men and boys of color. Through this work, Cities United has partnered with more than 50 different mayors, foundations, and federal agencies across the country.
My brother’s death set the foundation for the work that I devote my life to but I also recognize that this bigger than even Andre. We can no longer sit on the sidelines and allow gun lobbyists to place band-aids on gunshot wounds. The time for change is now. The body count continues. Gravesites don’t lie and bullets end lives but we can change that, we can do something about it.
Jamira Burley, 25, is the Executive Director of the Philadelphia Youth Commission. She is also a member of the United Nations (Global Education First Initiative) Youth Advocacy Group and co-founder of GenYnot.