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Middle Schoolers Take to the Streets of Crown Heights, Bed-Stuy to Protest Gun Violence

The walkout is a culmination of a 2 1/2-month learning expedition in which gun violence is studied across a variety of disciplines, including English, social studies and science.

Fulton Street was flooded with orange and art this past Friday, as 200 middle school students wearing tangerine-colored t-shirts and holding handmade signs marched to Bed-Stuy's Restoration Plaza demanding an end to gun violence.

This demonstration was the eighth annual student walkout to end gun violence at Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School in Crown Heights. This year, the walkout coincided with National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The walkout is a culmination of a 2 1/2-month learning expedition in which the issue is studied across multiple disciplines, Launch Co-Founder and Senior Director of External Affairs Alexis Rubin told BK Reader.

"In social studies, they learn about the right to bear arms, they learn about lots of different court cases in the news and what's happening. And they get to assess the different cases and decide what they think, based on the Constitution, and the right to bear arms," Rubin said.

"In English, students are reading firsthand accounts of how gun violence has impacted people, both fiction and nonfiction, they're also writing about their own experiences and experiences of others, and reacting to that. In science, they're learning about gun violence from the perspective of an epidemiologist, and really studying it from the lens of a public health crisis, and thinking about how to make change."

Students of Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School in Crown Heights braved the heat to march for an end to gun violence. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

The curriculum ends with the rally, in which students are encouraged to express themselves on what they have learned. As a result, many of the sixth, seventh and eighth grade students carried powerful hand-painted banners and posters, and the rally included multiple student speeches, as well as a dance performance and poetry on the topic of gun violence.

Students who had been directly impacted by the loss of family members to gun violence were among the student organizers. Eighth grade student Lavon Walker Jr. lost his father to gun violence and has used his personal experience to become a young advocate for safer communities.

"I use my experience as a way that I can change gun violence, and I feel like it's possible to end it," he told BK Reader. He said he thought the gun violence curriculum they taught at Launch was important. 

"It gives everybody else an opportunity to advocate for others," he said.

Lavon Walker Jr. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

Seventh grader Jahmir Caton lost his cousin to gun violence two years ago. Since then, he has also become an advocate, participating in a rally organized by his family and friends in his cousin's honor. 

“When I heard the news about my cousin, I was so young, and it changed my life. It changed my perspective of gun violence. Today really made me feel positive about this, and as a leader, I know I can make change,” Caton said. “I would really like for policymakers to make stricter gun laws, and to increase the chance of Brooklyn being gun-free.”

The school partners with the local non-profit Save Our Streets, which seeks to end gun violence at the neighborhood level by changing attitudes around violence and creating meaningful educational and employment opportunities within the community. 

Students of Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School in Crown Heights. Photo: Jessy Edwards for BK Reader.

During the rally, the students and their teachers braved the 84 degree temperature to partake in a presentation of what they've learned about gun violence. Student Crystal Smith, 13, read a poem she'd written on gun violence titled "Statistics." "The gun can only have power if we let it," she told the rally. 

Andrey Dunn, 12, said he had concluded from his science studies that COVID-19 was traumatic, but gun violence was worse.

"Why do I have to be in fear for my own life?" Dunn said.

Rubin said the topic was particularly meaningful to study at Launch because it impacts many of its students, with students of color being disproportionally impacted by gun violence historically, she said.

"Giving them an outlet to learn about it from an academic perspective, and to be able to express themselves and their feelings — through dance, through poems, through rap, through song, through brochures, through art and the science that you see — it gives them a voice for change," Rubin said.

"And so, over time, we believe that we will be able to stop the impact that gun violence is having in our community because kids are given a platform to stand up."

Jessy Edwards

About the Author: Jessy Edwards

Jessy Edwards is an award-winning news and feature reporter whose work can be seen in such publications as NBC New York, Rolling Stone, the BBC, CNBC and more.
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