Reginald Haynes tries to shield his grandsons from the troubles of the world, but he also encourages them to speak up for the things they believe in and to speak out against injustice.
When Troy Johnson invited the tweens and teens in his Young Men 4 Christ mentoring group in Southeast Raleigh to join March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., last month, Haynes knew the experience would show his grandsons what he’s always tried to tell them.
“They have their own fight ahead of them,” Haynes said. “This march galvanized young people from all over the country, all walks of life, all cultures, to come together for a common cause."
It gives them plenty to do as student organizers lead the call for change in the nation’s gun laws and focus on mental health after the Valentine’s Day massacre of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
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The YM4C group carried signs — “Can I Live?” “Policy Prevents Tragedy.” “Stray Bullets Have No Name.” Johnson said the youngsters left the march inspired by the #NeverAgain movement to learn more about local policies and to write letters to lawmakers to get their voices heard and changes made.
“That young people can lead a movement as big as this and try to make a change in this society is really pretty awesome; it feels kind of spectacular,” said Haynes’ grandson, Anthony Durrett, 14. “I want to help make a difference in the community, in the state and in the country — to just do the best that I can to make sure this doesn’t happen again because it’s just not OK.”
His brother Justice, 12, wants to explore the strictest of gun control changes.
“Honestly, I don’t think any citizen should have a gun — only police or military,” he said, turning his thoughts to recent proposals to arm educators. “Teachers definitely shouldn’t have guns. I wouldn’t feel safe like that.”
Tyson Bizzell, 12, said he realized that tighter gun regulations won’t just save lives taken, but will save survivors, too.
“It’s more than I expected — the sadness,” he said. “It still haunts them.”
Ty’Aidan Baez found role models at the protest.
“It was a different type of energy,” said Baez, a Daniels Middle School eighth-grader. “To see younger kids doing the same things I could be doing makes me look up to that. I look up to them and want to do the same. It’s new.”
Jourdan King, 14, wants to see more opportunities for youth voices in legislative decision-making.
“America is a country that is supposed to be ‘for the people and by the people,’" said the Southeast Raleigh High School freshman. “We’re definitely supposed to have a say in what goes down.”
Jason Sanders, 13, was glad the rally included some talk about gun violence outside of school. For the first time, he said, “People our age (are) speaking out and not being ignored.”
the pre-march message from Tyreese and Tony McAllister also leaned on the importance of a comprehensive movement.
The McAllisters’ youngest daughter, Ayana, was shot and killed by random gunfire in March 2017 after watching a video shoot in Washington, D.C. The 18-year-old Saint Augustine’s University freshman was home for spring break. She was studying criminal justice to carve her own path in her parent’s footsteps as a detective.
“What the kids in Florida are doing and what’s trending in the media as it relates to gun violence is good, and it’s needed,” said Tyreese McAllister, 49, a crisis response therapist who counsels others through family tragedy. “We do need stronger mental health evaluations and background checks. However, that’s not going to make any impact in communities of color.”
Illegal gun purchases skirt all checks and balances, she said. “In urban environments, and even in the suburbs, anybody can get a gun.”
An equally important issue is random acts of gun violence outside of school walls, which happens more often, said Tyreese McAllister, a Shaw University alumna.
Tony McAllister, a juvenile probation officer, believes adults must now help young people everywhere mobilize, not only to expand their ranks but to also expand the focus of the movement.
“I’m imploring people of color to stand up and say something about gun violence, in general, but especially as it relates to our communities,” said McAllister, 54, a Southeast Raleigh native and graduate of Saint Augustine’s. “We can be true advocates, not just in D.C., but in North Carolina, too.”
The family will continue to do its part through the Ayana J. McAllister Foundation, raising awareness with fundraisers that will provide five $2,000 college scholarships. One will go to someone who lives in the apartments where their daughter was killed, and another to a Saint Aug’s student majoring in criminal justice who has experienced gun violence.