Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence Hosts Community Advocacy and Violence Prevention Summit 

Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence hosted their fifth annual Community Advocacy and Violence Prevention Summit titled “Voices For Change: A Movement Against Gun Violence” for the Loyola and surrounding community April 3.

Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence hosted their fifth annual Community Advocacy and Violence Prevention Summit titled “Voices For Change: A Movement Against Gun Violence” for the Loyola and surrounding community April 3.

The summit featured keynote speaker X Gonzalez, a survivor of the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida and a founder of March For Our Lives. Gonzalez spoke with the audience about their experience as an activist. 

“My reaction to all of that was mostly rage,” Gonzalez said in an interview with The Phoenix. “Rage over the injustice and the inaction, and so I feel like the anxiety comes when I feel very powerless, but I often feel very powerful because I know that this change can happen.”

March For Our Lives is a student-led organized group, created to take action against gun violence through legislative gun control reform, according to the March For Our Lives website.

Project manager of Project Unloaded Olivia Brown, muralist Milt Coronado and founder of Healthy Hood Chicago Reverend Tanya Lozano-Washington also spoke about their efforts to raise awareness and prevent gun violence in the local Chicago community. 

Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence graduate fellow at Loyola Zachary Wilder said the planning for the event began in August with the goal of targeting a younger audience, which led the committee to contact Gonzalez. Wilder said Gonzalez, 25, was the perfect choice since they are a young person leading a movement full of young activists. 

Gonzalez was introduced by U.S Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky for Illinois’ 9th District, who said in her speech she believes gun violence is a problem unique to America and called for national gun control legislation. Schakowsky said since Illinois has strong gun laws, most of the gun violence occurring in Chicago comes from guns purchased out-of-state.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives firearm trace data from 2020 shows guns recovered in Illinois that were purchased in-state make up 49.8% of total firearms recovered while the rest come from out-of-state or outside the U.S, according to the ATF website

“The point is there has to be national legislation,” Schakowsky said. “We absolutely can do this. That is my final message — that we can mobilize the vast majority of Americans. We can amplify the voice of the young people.”

Gonzalez said in a speech they began March For Our Lives with other survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting when many of them were still seniors in high school. They said they skipped a lot of the end of high school to get the organization off the ground and spent the summer of 2018 touring the country to visit places affected by gun violence to have important political conversations.

Gonzalez said the organization wasn’t as intersectional as it should’ve been in the beginning. They said they had to reorient to be more inclusive and get everybody’s voices into the conversation.

Gonzalez said it’s important to make their political sentiments heard by politicians who oppose gun control by bringing voices together to amplify their message and make it hard to ignore. 

“How do you tell a million people on your doorstep, ‘No, we will not be passing safer gun laws. That would be terrible for my bankroll?’” Gonzalez said. “You can’t admit that. So when we get the opportunity to push and embarrass legislators who deserve to be pushed and embarrassed, it is definitely on us to do that.”

Gonzalez said the persistence of the March For Our Lives lobbyist team made a major difference in continuously reiterating the organization’s political goals. By the end of the term, Gonzalez said members of Congress knew the March For Our Lives’ lobbyist by name and trusted their recommendations.

Arden Baldinger, a registered dietitian at Loyola’s school based health center at Proviso East high school, said working in a high schooll, she notices a cycle of harm occurring when students are harassed or belittled by security issued to prevent gun violence in schools. Baldinger said she thinks her students don’t feel heard or safe in schools and she questioned what she can do as an educator to dismantle systems of harm in schools.

Gonzalez said they think many of the measures, such as school resource officers, metal detectors, pat downs or clear backpacks, taken to reduce harm on students actually increase it. They said treating children like problems influences the school-to-prison pipeline and makes children feel unsafe in schools.

Following Gonzalez’s address, Brown shared her work with Project Unloaded — a campaign to change the culture of guns in the United States by teaching young people guns make the community more unsafe rather than safer, according to Brown. 

Brown said the organization operates with respect to their theory of change, which states Project Unloaded can empower the next generation to choose not to use guns through creative campaigns and community partnerships.

Project Unloaded uses Generation Z influencers to spread their Safer Not Using Guns campaign on social media and has seen positive interactions to posts, according to Brown. She said everything Project Unloaded does is rooted in research, including the information they share and how it’s presented. 

After Brown, Coronado shared murals he painted of gun death victims in Chicago, specifically in Little Village. Coronado said he began painting murals of gun violence victims in 2016 when he painted his father, who died from a gunshot in 2001 in Little Village. 

“I pray for a time that I don’t have to do this anymore,” Coronado said. “But as long as God grants me energy in my hands to hold up a spray can and in my legs to climb a ladder, I am going to do this.”

After Coronado, Lozano-Washington shared her work through Healthy Hood Chicago, an organization created to combat the 20-year life expectancy gap between underprivileged and affluent communities in Chicago. She said minorities in cities often die earlier because of diseases like diabetes, HIV/AIDS, hypertension and cancer. She said she believes the prevalence of disease and gun violence are connected in minority communities. 

“We can sit here and talk about gun violence all we want, but the truth is gun violence is a symptom,” Lozano-Washington said. “The sickness is systemic racism and oppression.”

Healthy Hood Chicago was modeled after the Black Panther Party and its focus on survival programs, such as the Free Breakfast for Children Program, according to Lozano-Washington. The organization provides resourcesLoyola Stands Against Gun Violence and programming to aid the mind, body and conscience to fight the life expectancy gap. 

The summit concluded with remarks by Loyola Stands Against Gun Violence graduate fellows Tijana Nikolic, Idiake Irunmundomon, Elizabeth DeLoreto, Gabriela Fuentes and Wilder, who shared their personal experiences and research with gun violence and called the audience to take action.

“Ultimately, we know these are some of the most difficult conversations to have,” Fuentes said. “But they’re also some of the most important, so we hope you leave here today with the tools to begin these conversations, the knowledge to engage in them and the courage to make a difference.”

Featured image by Lilli Malone / The Phoenix

Julia Pentasuglio

Julia Pentasuglio