We have to support these children who have chosen to stand up. We must have their backs. We must let them know that there are millions of us who are so appreciative that they want to help improve this world.
After making a global impact at the March for Our Lives last weekend, Naomi Wadler and her mother retreated to a beach house. They spoke to the Guardian about activism and gun deaths
by Lois Beckett in New York.
When 11-year-old Naomi Wadler gave a speech at last weekend’s March for Our Lives in Washington about the importance of remembering the lives of black women and girls lost to gun violence, the reaction was intense and immediate.
That morning Wadler, who was the second-youngest speaker at the march – after nine-year-old Yolanda Renee King, Martin Luther King’s granddaughter – had been worried that she was “going to mess up”.
Wadler and an 11-year-old friend had organised a walkout at their Virginia elementary school earlier that month. While many American student protests had lasted 17 minutes – to honour the 17 victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Parkland – the two elementary school pupils had decided to add an additional minute to honour Courtlin Arrington, an African American teenager shot dead at her high school in Alabama in early March.
“African American women, when they are shot and killed … their names aren’t remembered, so I thought it was important to add,” Wadler explained on the day of the walkout.
This statement had gone viral, attracting wider media attention and leading to an invitation to speak at March for Our Lives in the capital.
To write her own speech for the DC rally, Wadler had watched – “like, 10 times” – the speech Parkland survivor Emma González had given days after the shooting at her high school. She had worked with her mother to take “all of my big bundles of feelings” and cram them into a speech.
When she went out on stage in front of hundreds of thousands of protesters, Wadler said she kept her eyes focused on just the first few rows of people.
“I am here to acknowledge the African American girls whose stories do not make the front pages of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I said my ending ‘thank you’ that I realised how many people were looking at me,” Wadler said in a phone interview that Saturday night.