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From Tragedy to Action: AmeriCorps Member Confronts the Silent Epidemic of Gun Violence Among Young People

Imagine seeing a loved one for the first time in a long time. High spirits and good energy filled the room as you spent time with them, only to receive a call a few months later that someone had shot and killed your loved one. This was my family’s reality just last year as we learned about my cousin’s sudden and tragic passing. Like me, this is the reality many people face because of gun violence.

Gun violence has become a familiar tragedy, robbing our youth of their futures and leaving families shattered. Since 2019, firearms have claimed more lives than car accidents, making it the leading cause of death for children and teens (ages 1 to 19) in the United States. The rise in mass school shootings, nonfatal gunshot injuries, and threats further underscores the urgency. Despite concerning trends, some elected officials refuse to protect our youth from these gun-related crimes. Instead, they push for counterproductive measures and block common-sense gun safety laws. All of which continue to keep our children and young people in harm’s way. This must change.

The statistics paint a stark reality: The United States has a gun homicide rate among young people that is 49 times higher than other developed nations. Every day, three to four Americans under 18 die from gun violence. These numbers demand immediate attention and action. While young people are demanding efforts to pass gun violence prevention measures, elected officials are opting to line up with the gun lobby to pass policies that place children and teens at higher risk of gun violence.

The numbers raise an essential question about gun violence among young people. While mass school shootings rightly get a lot of attention, the CDC data suggests the gun problem with young people is much larger and more complicated. And even more remarkable than the jump in gun deaths was the racial breakdown. In the 2021 data, the Pew Research Center found that gun violence claimed the lives of more Black children than other young people. Among African American children, the rate of gun deaths per 100,000 people (about the seating capacity of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum) was 11.8 — more than five times the number of other racial and ethnic groups. The figure for white children and Hispanics was 2.3 per 100,000, and for Asian children, it was even lower, at 0.9.

My experience as a City Year AmeriCorps member has profoundly emphasized the significance of being a mentor, tutor, and role model for at-risk youth. Through this experience, I have learned that these roles offer a distinctive and practical approach to tackling the issue of gun violence among young individuals. By actively promoting social-emotional learning, fostering positive relationships, and providing academic support, we empower them to envision a path toward their future aspirations and dreams. City Year creates safe, nurturing spaces where students feel valued, connected, and empowered to make positive choices.

One of City Year’s most remarkable aspects is its commitment to addressing the underlying factors contributing to gun violence. They understand that gun violence is not just a result of individual actions. It is inextricable from trauma, poverty, and limited opportunities. City Year members actively work to break this cycle by providing comprehensive support to students, helping them overcome challenges, and connecting them with vital resources. City Year members become catalysts for change through their presence, guiding young people toward a path of success and away from the dangers of gun violence.

In the face of tragedy, my City Year AmeriCorps experience allows me to bring hope and positive change. I encourage other young adults to engage in this work and serve as mentors and advocates to the students of Central Arkansas. Together, we can build a generation of young people who are resilient, compassionate, and equipped to break the cycle of violence.

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