Sarah Clements is being honored as a Gun Violence Prevention Champion of Change.
I remember sitting in lockdown for hours, reading news that the shooting happened only miles away at Sandy Hook, my former elementary school. I remember waiting to hear whether my mother, a second grade teacher at the school, survived. She did. And I remember the feeling deep down, even hours after the shooting happened, that the only way I’d be able to move forward was if I advocated for things to change.
About a month later, my father and I traveled to Washington, D.C. to join 6,000 other Americans marching for gun reform. I was introduced to the vast, diverse, and courageous movement of individuals working for safer communities. Back home, I joined the Newtown Action Alliance (NAA), a grassroots non-profit working for legislative and cultural change to reduce gun violence. Yet, I was one of the only students getting involved, and this incredible, positive outlet helping me transform my pain into positive action was invisible to my peers. In response, I formed and continue to lead Jr. Newtown Action Alliance, a branch of NAA that gives students the opportunity to raise their voices and make change.
At first, Jr. Newtown Action Alliance only had outreach in Newtown. We held letter writing events in town and mostly focused on helping our town heal from the shooting. Soon, we started networking with other young people in the region and state, and we began travelling every three months to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress. Members also travelled around the country to hold workshops to teach students how to break down the issue of gun violence prevention.
This year, the goal of Jr. NAA is to build bridges between urban, suburban, and rural youth to not only share our stories and experiences, but also to then use that knowledge, understanding, and source of empathy to strategize about how we can make our schools and communities safer together.
Last month, our members met with members of the group Harlem SNUG, a gang violence mediation and conflict resolution organization working for safer streets. Our stories were different, but at the same time, we all experienced gun violence, and that allows us to better understand the ground upon which the other walks.
Finally, I’m a Gun Violence Prevention Volunteer Lead at Generation Progress, the Millennial branch of the Center for American Progress. Our team facilitates a network of youth working on this and connected issues on the national level so that our movement is more efficient and so that the youth voice is front and center in this conversation. In February, we organized a national summit, and the three-day event brought more than 120 Millennials from 32 states to Washington, D.C. for intensive training on organizing and strategy for gun violence prevention. We are now creating the structure for this network and for a productive and efficient year of youth organizing.
As a Millennial, I will not back down. We are literally fighting for our lives; fighting for a most sacred and fundamental right: for children to grow up. Far too many of our friends' fates have teetered on the barrel of a gun, and America turns its back each time. We can no longer wait for the voice of a loved one to be muted before we exercise our own, for if I have learned anything since 12/14, it’s that the rights I have the privilege to possess are worthless unless I fight for others to have them, too; and that includes the right to living in a safe community.
Sarah Clements is a senior at Newtown High School and the Founder and Chairwoman of Jr. Newtown Action Alliance, a group of young people working to reduce gun violence through legislative action, cultural change, and bridge building between youth in different communities. She is also a Generation Progress Gun Violence Prevention Network Volunteer Lead.