Parkland kids are changing America. Here are the black teens who helped pave their way.
Illustration by Tatiana Cardenas/Upworthy.

As thousands across the nation prepare to take to the streets on March 24, 2018, for The March for Our Lives, we're taking a look at some of the root causes, long-lasting effects, and approaches to solving the gun violence epidemic in America. We'll have a new installment every day this week.

America hasn't been the same since Feb. 14, 2018.

That's when a 19-year-old man shot and killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and citizens around the country became rightfully outraged. 70% of Americans are fed up with excuses from the government and the National Rifle Association for not taking action about the circumstances that led to one of the deadliest high school shootings in modern American history.


Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, and Cameron Kasky have been just a few of the numerous Parkland students leading what's been called the #Enough or #NeverAgain movement for gun reform.

In the midst of unimaginable tragedy, these teens have been unapologetically outspoken about the collective American failure to implement safe, commonsense gun laws that a majority of Americans now believe in.

Photo by Rhona Wise/AFP/Getty Images.

Many have garnered a huge social media following, several have been interviewed by media such as "60 Minutes" and The New Yorker, and the young activists have made it clear they aren't backing down until things change.

They're already making a substantial impact on policy changes and the national conversation and understanding of gun violence. But it's time to take a step back and remember they weren't alone in bringing this issue to the forefront.

Some other really amazing teen activists have been fighting for gun reform for years.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

Rather than getting handclap and raised fist emojis from thousands of Americans, black youth activists have often been demonized, labeled as "thugs," and deemed trivial in the systematic gun reform conversation.

There are the friends of Hadiya Pendleton, a high school honor student who was killed at a park. In January 2013, they started a national Wear Orange movement to campaign against gun violence.

In September 2013, the Dream Defenders worked with NAACP leaders in an attempt to repeal the notorious Stand Your Ground law in Florida.

Black youth organized a massive march in New York City to protest gun violence and police brutality in December 2014. Tens of thousands of people attended the protest and marched for safety for all people.

In 2015, activist DeRay Mckesson helped launch Campaign Zero, an organization that proposes policy changes to curb gun and police violence.

And in July 2016, four teenage black girls organized a march and silent sit-in at Millennium Park to protest gun violence in Chicago communities.

These are just a few examples of thousands of active black teens working on gun reform over the years. Though many of these protests have been successful and meaningful, many have criticized the youth for their protest strategy.

It's imperative that we not just recognize young black activists, but that we also appreciate their efforts being equally as important and invaluable as those of non-black kids.

The Parkland kids should be supported. They've done remarkable work that warrants the celebrity outreach they've received. And they've certainly gotten their share of criticism from the NRA and the internet.

But there are unequivocal double standards in the response to activism from young, non-black students compared with the activism of young black kids that are fighting for similar changes. In comparison, Parkland activists were quickly taken seriously and supported financially.

Historically, America has failed to side with black activists on a number of issues — including gun control — and continues to do so. This inability to recognize black activism is a detriment to real change that could affect a number of different communities, including those most at risk.

Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.

After all, the impact of gun violence on black communities is staggering. Black Americans are disproportionately affected by gun violence compared with white Americans. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black Americans are, on average, eight times more likely to be killed by firearms than those who are white.

As innumerable white men continue to barrel the black-on-black crime narrative on social media and Reddit threads as an excuse to not listen to black protesters, black kids have been in the streets, on the internet, and in government buildings advocating for change in their schools and communities.

Often seen in society as older and less innocent than their white counterparts, black teens face stigma and implicit bias when protesting, which negatively impacts clear, intended goals.

Critics often have even conflated the Black Lives Matter movement with violence when, in fact, most Black Lives Matter organizations center their missions around reducing violence. Black teens have organized rallies, spoken with politicians, and confronted the NRA in an effort to get guns out of dangerous hands and particularly out of communities where they've been especially destructive.

Instead of praise, many of the teens and young black people active in protesting injustice were shut down, ignored, or, worse, persecuted.

We can do better than that.

When we financially support organizations that mobilize to decrease violence in communities, call out racist statements on social media made in response to black kids calling out injustice, and praise black kids just as much as other youth when they protest, strategize, and organize, we can create a system that supports the values of all people.

The road to justice and commonsense gun reform is long and complex, but young people of all demographics have shown this world that change is possible when we listen.

Let's ensure our society is listening to all voices — not just those who fit a certain narrative.

For more of our look at America's gun violence epidemic, check out other stories in this series:

And see our coverage of to-the-heart speeches and outstanding protest signs from the March for Our Lives on March 24, 2018.

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

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Over the past six years, it feels like race relations have been on the decline in the U.S. We've lived through Donald Trump's appeals to America's racist underbelly. The nation has endured countless murders of unarmed Black people by police. We've also been bombarded with viral videos of people calling the police on people of color for simply going about their daily lives.

Earlier this year there was a series of incidents in which Asian-Americans were the targets of racist attacks inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Given all that we've seen in the past half-decade, it makes sense for many to believe that race relations in the U.S. are on the decline.

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