Photo: Illustration of Neuteyshe Felizor, art by Shanee Benjamin
I have never been involved in active shootings, but my loved ones have, both here in the U.S. and in my home country of Haiti. I first experienced gun violence when my father was robbed at gunpoint in our apartment complex. Just three weeks ago, my family friend was shot and killed in his office building in Petition-Ville. This second-hand-experience has opened my eyes to the pervasiveness of gun violence and what I can do to help reduce it. My determination is in part fueled by fear that stems from being a student and wondering every day if today is the day, while also being a Black woman wondering if I will be another victim of police gun violence. But it also means determination to make my fear into a stepping stone for passion, power, and motivation to never stop speaking up.
After Parkland, I began to learn more about the intersectionality of gun violence with issues like suicide, intimate partner violence, intercommunal violence, and police brutality. That’s when I began to take a stand personally and for my community with the help of everyone at George Mason University Students Demand Action, Everytown, and Moms Demand Action
Throughout the past semester, myself and the four other founding members of Students Demand Action at George Mason University helped with hosting informational forums, canvassing, phone banking, protesting, campaign events, and voter registration drives to help elect Gun Sense Candidates. As our chapter’s voter registration lead, I am in charge of pre-registering and registering as many students as possible as well as teaching them about the importance of voter registration and voting in all elections.
I get involved and stay involved in the Black community within Students Demand Action by not only being a voice, but an ear. At each and every Students Demand Action meeting we hold, I make sure to speak to every Black student — especially if they’re a Black woman because their voices are even more marginalized — about violence in their community, how they’re getting involved and what I can do to help.
I spoke on the GMU gun violence and domestic violence panel in October with delegate Eileen Filler-Corn about the intersectionality of gun violence and its relationship to intimate partner violence. My aunt was a victim of an abusive domestic violence relationship which resulted in her death in September 2017. Gun violence has not only affected my family personally, but it feels like a constant threat because we are Black.
Gun violence was one of the most important issues in the 2018 midterms and we got a Gun Sense Majority in the House, which means that our awareness campaigns and voter registration drives work. Moving forward, I plan to make the movement even more inclusive to Black bodies. I am currently working on a partnership with different clubs on campus to help recruit Black students into Students Demand Action and the gun violence prevention movement as a whole. The goal is to continue opening a dialogue and creating a larger and more diverse network and organization for this movement.
From the mass shooting at Parkland, which Jesus Caro, my speech and debate mentor, survived, to my friends who were also there that day, to the domestic violence murder of my aunt, to my father being robbed at gunpoint in my community as a child, to simply the fact that I am a Black woman living in America — I have had enough of the suffering and our helpless cries for our politicians to do more.
I worry everyday whether I will be a victim of police brutality, just another hashtag in the #SayHerName movement, and I worry for the safety of my family members in their communities where gun violence is rampant. It is my moral obligation to use my voice to fight for justice, solutions, and peace, not just for the experiences my family have had, but for our future.
Neuteyshe Felizor is a student at George Mason University, Students Demand Action leader, and gun violence prevention advocate.