“I am here to say ‘never again’ for those girls, too!” 11-year-old Naomi Wadler said at the March for Our Lives rally in D.C. Saturday, spotlighting America’s need for a longer collective memory when victims are Black women and girls. Wadler’s speech earned the breakout success designation among nationwide marches and speeches for gun reform.

“I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential,” Wadler said. The preteen shared that she and a friend led an 18-minute walkout at their elementary school in honor of the 17 Parkland shooting victims plus one minute for Courtlin Arrington. Arrington, a Black 17-year-old girl, was shot at her Alabama high school and died en route to the hospital. Her story did not garner the same level of national focus as the Parkland victims and survivors. The Wadler family, however, was moved by both tragedies.

Wadler’s mom told the Washington Post that a family friend lost his daughter during the Parkland shooting. Between the family’s personal connection, Naomi’s own observation of disparate societal responses to gun violence victims (a.k.a. Black girl realism) and inspiration from high school and middle school organizers, Wadler set out to contribute her voice. In so doing, she became the youngest speaker at the March for Our Lives.

The elementary student invoked the Black rhetoric tradition and its symbiotic call-and-response through an emphatic “that’s right” from the crowd—reassurance that her words found fertile ground.

While Wadler called for America to do better by victims who are both Black and female, she did not dismiss the advocacy of her peers at the march. Instead, the Alexandria, Virginia native challenged those in spheres of power to #SayHerName when injustice occurs, and reverse the practice of reducing Black female victims’ stories to the periphery or erasing Black women and girls altogether while centering white victims.

Her speech should also be internalized as a challenge to journalists to improve industry prioritization of and sensitivity to the nuanced facts of Black stories that include gun violence and victimhood.

“I am here to acknowledge their stories, to say they matter, to say their names because I can and I was asked to,” Wadler said. As she wound down her remarks, the child organizer also reminded legislators that she and her friends will be of voting age in seven years. 

If you missed the magic before, watch the clip here.

 

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