- Naomi Wadler organized a school walkout at the age of 11 following the shooting in Parkland.
- In the United States, nearly 2,900 children and teens are shot and killed.
- Naomi is among a number of teenage change-makers at Davos.
Naomi Wadler is used to hearing about schoolchildren being shot on the news.
She was just five when the Sandyhook massacre took place. She’d already been in lockdown and seen a SWAT team come into her elementary school, during a nearby shooting.
When 17 students were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland, Wadler was 11 - and desensitized.
“I was used to it. It was Valentine’s Day. I was opening up the gifts from my classmates and I saw it on the TV,” said the 13-year-old in conversation with musician and co-executive producer of Parkland Rising, will.i.am.
“Of course I was horrified, but it was something that had happened so many times before, so the scary part was that I was numb to it. It was almost mundane.”
Her reaction was so profound, she organized a walkout at her elementary school and has met survivors from Parkland.
“Being able to talk to the kids and share their pain and realise we deserve better than this was a great experience.”
According to research, gun violence in schools is just the tip of the iceberg, with many more deaths occurring on the streets or in homes. In the United States, nearly 2,900 children and teens are shot and killed and nearly 15,600 more are shot and injured every year.
18 minutes for 18 children
Wadler’s walk-out lasted 18 minutes – the first 17 to honour the 17 Parkland victims and an additional minute for Courtlin Arrington, an African American teenager shot dead at high school in Alabama.
She’s on a mission not just to end gun violence, but to ensure black and white are treated equally.
“When I learned that Courtlin passed, she had a tiny section at the bottom of the newspaper and that was it. I see African American girls experience so much violence and it not getting attention.
“White girls’ lives matter so much more than any black girl who dies in the inner city, or on the way to school. We don’t hear about them, they’re statistics,” she said.
Not only that, but the way African-American children are treated growing up, means they’re more likely to end up in jail, in what’s known as the school-to-prison pipeline, she says.
"In a less fortunate neighbourhood, you have to wear a see-through backpack, if you’re a girl you get stopped if you’re wearing a skirt that’s too short… You’re criminalized, even if you’re innocent.
"If you are told your entire life you’re this dangerous person, that you can only amount to this one thing, you’re going to become that and that’s what gets girls and boys into prison."
What needs to happen
Wadler puts her ability to stand up and speak out down to growing up in a house where they had the tough conversations about gun violence and world events.
“The news is always on. After the Charlottesville riots in Virginia, we were all crying and confused, but I was able to channel that into something more and talk about it.”
She thinks the education system is flawed - and should be reframed to make it more inclusive.
“We can educate our youth a lot better. We’re not delving deeper into social justice movements from the past. We learn that Dr King gave a speech, he had a dream and then he was shot.
“We need to immerse ourselves in the world of activism and diverse perspectives. If we only teach a child about one way to live, about the white scientists and the white politicians, they’re not going to grow up and respect the black ones."
There needs to be tighter regulation around background checks for gun licences: "Anybody could walk into a store and purchase a machine gun with no ID," said Naomi.
She believes the future lies in young people's hands.
"A lot of young people think they have no power, they can’t control what’s going on. We can choose who we want to elect and we can be the ones running for office. I want to see more action and less talking."