Bay Area Student Changemaker Address

Stephanie, an 8th grader from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, on her action project to address neighborhood violence.

This speech was delivered at Bay Area Civics Day on December 7, 2018.

Good afternoon, my name is Stephanie. I’m from San Francisco and I attend Martin Luther King Jr. middle school. I’m in 8th grade and I’m 13 years old.

I want to tell you about the issue my class worked on — neighborhood violence. Neighborhood violence puts everybody’s life on the line — families worried about losing their children, people in our community worried about losing their lives. Kids growing up in violence think it’s normal. I think that’s not fair and I believe this needs to change.

I want to tell you about how this has affected a family at MLK. One of our families survived a drive-by shooting. All three of the members were shot and luckily survived. But the story doesn’t end there. They had long term problems, like being afraid when they are out, and now they hate guns.

For me, and for many families at MLK, neighborhood violence is not just something you hear on the news, it’s real.

When we started Generation Citizen, students wanted to choose school lunch as a topic. I felt like they should work on neighborhood violence because I feel it’s the biggest issue in San Francisco. Many students didn’t agree at first, so I worked with Mr. Jackson to find an article that would get them interested.

I also stepped up as a leader in my group because I was the most interested in the topic. I asked other students questions like, “how often do you hear about people losing their lives over neighborhood violence? A lot!” Because I raised my voice and worked with my teacher to give students more information, they started to understand that neighborhood violence was more important than school lunch.

Our DC’s Hannah and Bernardo came in to do a workshop on neighborhood violence, which helped us learn a lot about it and pushed us forward as a class to choose the issue. We created posters and talked about the root cause, like access to guns, or why guns are legal. This could be the first change — it would affect how safe our neighborhoods are. No more shooting equals safer surroundings for families.

We decided that our class goal was to work with the Board of Supervisors to propose a gun law that would tax gun sales and give the money to schools for programs that prevent gun violence.

One thing I know is that student voices matter as much as adult’s voices do, though often adults act like they don’t. Students should try as hard as we can to raise our voices so adults can hear us.

Most adults that work in schools don’t live in our neighborhoods. Our experiences are different from theirs — they didn’t grow up here. It’s a different time as well. We are the ones experiencing issues like neighborhood violence. Though it can be hard to get our ideas out, it’s up to us, and to adults to listen to us! Adults may say they know what’s going on and can fix it, but we’re waiting. If we want change it’s going to be up to all of us!

Neighborhood violence can change how kids act. It can make some of us more aggressive and do things like bring fake guns to school. We students have the power to change this, while we’re young, because it will just get worse as we grow up. That’s another way we can use our voices AND actions to make a change.

I am a changemaker. I have a strong voice. I see me becoming a lawyer, or doing some kind of work where I can fight for people’s rights — maybe even president!