Dymond Garrett, 15 Oakland, California [caption id="attachment_31066" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Dymond Garrett, 15, lives in Oakland, CA. Photo courtesy of Youth Alive![/caption] Where I grew up, we've learned that no bullet has a name on it. So if you get hit, you get hit. Even in the middle of crossfire. You don’t know what can happen walking from school to home -- like hearing gunshots. If you are near it, you have to run, duck and hide. And sometimes, if you try to run and hide, you might be hit in that process. For me, gun violence has been a very big deal since I was young. At the age of 8, my dad’s house was shot up. I was in a room playing a game when we heard gunshots. There were bullets flying through the window. I heard my dad saying, “Just get down!” We didn’t get hurt, but it’s just traumatic. When I was younger, I could go outside and hang out. And now that I’m older, it’s gotten worse. You can’t hang out with certain people if you don’t know what they are into. And some parts of Oakland have changed. There are more shootings and a lot more people beefing with each other. It’s like a lot of people just kill each other for no reason now. Some people feel like they have to kill or get killed. Now a little kid as young as 11 years old can get a gun in less than 24 hours because they want to feel safe. It’s a reality now. I work with a program called Youth Alive -- we’re teens tackling this issue and dealing with it. I feel like now I’m part of a movement to make my community better for the next generation. It’s given me a bigger purpose. But when the kids who live in Oakland fight for our rights in protest, it’s not televised. People are like, “You guys are just defiant.” When all we are doing is fighting for something that is meaningful to us -- a more peaceful place. [caption id="attachment_31072" align="alignnone" width="1000"] Protesters hold cameras and signs in a July 2016 solidarity march in Oakland following the deaths of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. Photo: Youth Radio[/caption] When Oakland kids die, they’re not often shown in the media. People ask me about the Parkland shooting and I say I feel sad that those kids had to die. I feel sympathy too, but what about kids who aren’t their color who have died? People are listening now. But they should have been listening all along. Where we come from, if you have a good day, you are blessed. I thank God for every day that I live. Because you never know when you will go.
It took one person to kill 17 people in a middle-class area for y’all to listen? Are you serious? -- Dymond Garrett
Sebastián Hidalgo, 22 Chicago, Illinois [caption id="attachment_31051" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] A lone basketball rolls down a court which is surrounded by Barrett Park's murals of public figures. Photo: Sebastián Hidalgo[/caption] I was raised in Chicago’s southwest side neighborhood of Pilsen, a primarily Mexican-American neighborhood just a few train stops from downtown. In the early 90s it was considered a Mexican mecca but also known for violence. It's still considered “the hood” among other long-term residents. People feared they might not make it home, to school or even to the corner store. But I just thought that was how it was. This is how I grew up. Last summer, there was a gang war between three gangs. I was in the crossfire of five shootings in the span of three months while reporting in Pilsen. Two in one day. I’ve never experienced any concentration of violence like that. I always tell myself that those situations are not unique and that there are others who deal with the same form of violence at a greater scale. I was 11 or 12 when I started taking photographs. Throughout the years, I've devoted myself to documentary photography. When the Laquan McDonald video was released in 2015, I was overwhelmed with anger by what I saw in the video. But I had my camera with me and made my way to the police station where activist gathered. It was really important to me to show how people felt at the demonstration. They were tired, frustrated, and angry. They had every right to be angry. This was the first of many demonstrations on police reform I captured. History shows the amount of injustice our systems create for black and brown people. Police brutality and gun violence isn’t anything new in the United States. From protests to funerals -- you see how people really feel after years of discrimination. I just happen to have a camera in those moments. [caption id="attachment_31052" align="aligncenter" width="1000"] Friends and family members of Quintonio LeGrier mourn during a funeral procession at New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, 2016. Photo: Sebastián Hidalgo[/caption] These issues aren’t new and it’s frustrating to see now that the country is thinking about policy change when people have been coping with these problems for decades. Where was the attention during Orlando, Standing Rock, LA, Ferguson, when people were being shot? Even though there are people screaming at top of their lungs, there’s no representation. Right now they’re building a police academy on the West Side of Chicago -- a little north from Pilsen. More police won’t solve gun violence in Chicago. We need that money to open up schools, to provide resources for youth and alternatives other than joining a gang. There’s a reason why Chicago is nicknamed the windy city. There’s a lot of political negligence. Politicians know what the people need and demand, but we still see them closing trauma centers, schools, and cutting the budget for mental health clinics. That’s the world we live in. If an issue is not affecting a certain class or demographic, it’s ignored. [caption id="attachment_31070" align="aligncenter" width="800"] Young people on the West Side board a bus bound for Washington, D.C. for the March for Our Lives rally against gun violence. The trip was sponsored by the Chicago Westside Branch NAACP. Photo: Sebastián Hidalgo[/caption] When I see students from Austin, Chicago’s West Side neighborhood, board a bus, bound to D.C. to project their voices at March For Our Lives that gives me hope – we need more of those efforts and those moments of clarity, highlighted in the media. People younger than I am, with similar experiences, are now being given a platform to say, “This is wrong, and we feel neglected. We want to feel safe in our schools.” I give the youth respect for stepping up. But I worry that they’ll struggle and burn out from doing this work, as others did. And I hope they can learn to live healthy for the movement because a foot in the door should not be neglected at this moment. We should keep running since we can’t fly yet.
Special thanks to Youth Alive! in Oakland and City Bureau in Chicago for collaborating with us!