Youth activists, former FBI agent talk gun violence in Chicago at ETHS event


(Kate Salvidio/Daily Senior Staffer)

Evanston Township High School student Rie’onna Holman speaks at a Family Action Network Fellows event Wednesday. Panelists discussed mass shootings and gun violence in Chicago.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

To 15-year-old Rie’onna Holman, the solution to violence in Chicago and mass shootings is simple: stricter gun laws.

At Evanston Township High School, Holman, fellow teenage representative Diamondlee Ocasio and former FBI agent Phil Andrew spoke on a Wednesday panel about gun violence moderated by ETHS principal Marcus Campbell.

Holman is an ambassador from Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere, a Chicago-based program focused on violence prevention and leadership skills for teens. The Family Action Network fellows — 16 high school students from four North Shore high schools — organized the event to create a program for teenagers to engage with issues that matter to them.

As the father of teenagers himself, Andrew said he knew what the FAN fellows and B.R.A.V.E. ambassadors were capable of accomplishing.

“I know when a teenager gets something in their head, it’s going to get done,” Andrew said. “Their voices are powerful.”

Andrew came to the discussion as a survivor of gun violence himself. He lived through a shooter opening fire at Hubbard Woods School in Winnetka in 1988. He said after the attacker, Laurie Dann, shot him 30 years ago, he didn’t expect school shootings to continue to be an issue.

Andrew said though evidence supports stricter gun laws, people often react in fear, thinking they need to own guns to protect themselves. Through forums like the FAN program, he said people see the impact of gun violence on fellow human beings and can move away from that reaction.

Campbell told The Daily the discussion made him “proud” of the FAN fellows, and he emphasized students should continue organizing programming aimed at teenagers. He said Andrew, Holman and Ocasio were “remarkable” and “brave” to speak candidly about gun violence.

“Every single day I think about the safety of our students,” Campbell said. “When Parkland happens or when Santa Fe happens or when Sandy Hook happens, on a human level it just breaks my heart.”

Campbell said he grew up in the Chatham neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side and witnessed his black, male friends become victims of gun violence. He decided to go into education to reverse this pattern and help more black children succeed in school.

Growing up on the South Side today, Holman said she notices the racialized language people use when talking about mass shootings. She said white, male shooters are “given an excuse,” but a person of color is immediately assumed to be a “gang banger.”

Holman said when she advocates for gun reform and social justice, she is thinking about her younger sister. She said she doesn’t want her sister to grow up fearing for her life.

“We can tell our stories, and we’ll lead them through our communities (until) we get them to empathize,” Holman said. “We can put our shoes on their feet, and we can show them that (gun violence) can happen to anyone … This isn’t just a black and brown issue. It’s an American issue.”

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