Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the author and do not represent the views of Babble.
“My name is Naomi, and I am 11 years old.”
This was the simple, yet profound statement that young Naomi Wadler used to open her speech on Saturday at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C.
Wadler and her friend led a walkout at their school, George Mason Elementary in Alexandria Virginia, on March 14, just a week and a half before she headed to D.C. where over 200,000 people gathered. Their walkout was 17 minutes plus 1. The 17 minutes honored the 17 Parkland, Florida shooting victims, while the additional minute honored Courtlin Arrington, a black teen who was killed by gun violence in her Alabama high school after the Parkland shooting.
Though many students have been vocal about their experiences with gun violence and have called for the government to take immediate action, Wadler’s speech had a distinct focus.
“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” she stated. “For far too long, these names, these black girls and women have been just numbers.”
Naomi also bravely called out those who might be opposed to her speaking.
“People have said I am too young to have these thoughts on my own,” she said. “People have said I’m a tool of some nameless adult. It is not true.”
And, she reminded all who were listening that children her age “have seven short years until we too have the right to vote.”
Wadler wasn’t the only young person speaking out Saturday. Yolanda Renee King, the 9-year-old granddaughter of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led the Washington crowd in a chant while clasping hands with Parkland survivor Jaclyn Corin.
“Spread the word! Have you heard? All across the nation. We are … going to be … a great generation.”
She also shared her own dream, echoing some of her grandfather’s famous words.
“I have a dream that enough is enough, and that this should be a gun-free world. Period.”
Both girls’ speeches were deeply meaningful to my own family, captivating our attention. Too often, we watch decisions being made by people who do not look like my children, nor have personal experience with being ignored, stereotyped, persecuted, or judged by the color of their skin.
Wadler and King are girls who physically look like my own, but also mirror the characteristics I want my daughters to have: courage, conviction, and determination. They didn’t allow their skin color, age, or gender to render them insignificant. Their vulnerability and passion are inspiring, especially for other girls of color all across America who are listening and learning — including my own daughters.
The words of Yolanda’s own grandfather are just as true today as they were during the Civil Rights era: “Our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.”
Wadler and King chose action over silence. And for that, we should all be grateful.