For the eighth year in a row, Brooklyn’s Launch Charter School leadership organized a school-wide walkout and march to raise awareness on gun violence in the community last Friday for National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

Every year, the seventh grade expedition centers putting an end to gun violence in partnership with Save Our Streets (S.O.S.) violence interrupters. Students wear matching bright orange anti-gun violence shirts they designed and wave hand-made banners, signs, and posters down the long blocks to Bed-Stuy’s Restoration Plaza. Once at the plaza, the students perform, dance, recite poetry, sing, and discuss gun violence from a public health perspective.

“My aim as an educator is to embolden my students, to help them realize their voices matter, and to see themselves as catalysts for change,” said Camille Hendricks, Launch’s social studies teacher. 

The school’s sixth, seventh, and eighth grade students are unfortunately no strangers to gun violence; some of whom have already lost loved ones.

Student Jahmir Caton, 13, lost his cousin to gun violence in 2020. His family is from Saint Vincent and Trinidad. He worries about safety all the time, constantly checking in with his family, he said. He feels that elected officials and police should be strengthening the state’s gun laws. 

“I worry about my friends,” said Caton. “Even though I’m kinda the smallest outta my group, I always try to make sure that all of them are safe and I really care about them alot.”

Launch Expeditionary Learning Charter School was founded in 2012. It serves about 300 students at a colocated space in Bed-Stuy. Part of its core curriculum emphasizes teamwork, field trips, social action, and a restorative justice approach to discipline. The school also encourages in school voting and civic engagement.

“This is giving them a real life applicable experience to be activists in our community,” said Tiayana Logan, director of enrichment at Launch. “Everyone participates from student to staff to admin, family members, and alumni.”
Diamond Smith, 17, is a Launch alumni set to go to an HBCU. Her first year doing the walkout, she was a chant leader. “It was bigger than me at the time, and I was just screaming out chants,” said Smith.

Smith feels like the larger Black and brown communities in Crown Heights and its students aren’t involved with gun violence but are often caught in the crossfire.

According to recent police statistics, there was a 26.5% drop in shooting incidents in May 2023 compared to May 2022, and homicides fell by 33.3%. But a drop isn’t an end to the public health crisis. 

 “The women and men of the NYPD start each day with a clear mission: to work for and with the people of this city in our shared investment in public safety,” said NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell in a statement. “Over the past 17 months, I have seen their tireless work and their critical contributions to the vibrancy returning to our sidewalks and subways, stores and restaurants, and business districts. Our work remains unfinished, but we will never waver in our public safety mission to deliver safe streets and enhance strong bonds between the police and the people we serve.” 

The NYPD also made 349 gun-related arrests resulting in 284 firearms seized for the month and 2,802 guns for the year.

Anthony Rowe of S.O.S. acknowledged that gun crime was down, and that their organization would stay vigilant. 

“We prepare for the summer, the same way we prepare for fall and winter,” said Rowe, “We’re always going to be outside engaged in community. We’re there regardless, whether people see us or not. It’s going to be an amazing and safe summer. We’re going to manifest that.”

Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.

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