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Child Watch® Column: "We Need a Change"

Release Date: August 16, 2013

Marian Wright Edelman

“Dear President Obama . . . Guns are really easy to get and people think they need them to protect themselves, but most times they’re showing off and making more problems and adding to the violence . . . 7 people are too many to lose and I don’t want to see another one of my friends, or even myself gone. We need a change.”

In mid-July, students at Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools® summer enrichment sites across the country participated in a National Day of Action.  The Freedom Schools program seeks to empower children to know that they are not just citizens in waiting.  We want them to grow up knowing that they can and must make a difference in their homes, schools, communities, nation, and world.  Many wrote letters this summer to President Obama, members of Congress, and local officials sharing their beliefs about gun laws and personal experiences with gun violence. Some were inspired by the March 2013 Washington Post Magazine article “What’s Your Number?” which asked readers how many people they knew who had been killed or injured by guns. The youths who wrote the letters above and below had more experience than most. They are all boys between 15 and 20 years old who attend the Maya Angelou Academy at the New Beginnings Youth Development Center just outside Washington, D.C., one of six juvenile justice facilities across the country that have joined colleges, community groups, faith networks, public schools, municipalities, and dozens of other organizations hosting Freedom Schools sites. 

 “Dear President Obama . . . I have lost 20 or more people to gun violence . . . I have seen one of my best friends get shot and killed in my face. What really hurt was I had to tell his mother he was dead. To this day his murder is unsolved and I honestly feel it will never be solved. But something needs to give; either stricter gun policy or more mothers will have to go through what my friend’s mother went through.”

 “Dear President Obama . . . I have lost 23 friends and family to gun violence, some killed by police, some killed by stray bullets, and some over beefs. The thing I want to change about gun violence is for everybody to not only put down their guns, but to come together as one . . . Not only is it a time for change, but it’s time for a truce. We are fighting a war in another country, but we are at war right here in our homeland.”

“Dear President Obama . . . I am writing this letter to you because the longer people have access to illegal firearms, there will be more deaths to come . . . The more people suffer in poverty, the more there will be chaos and violence . . . It has to stop now! We all have to come as one. These young brothers are hypnotized by negativity. Help these young brothers, President Obama.” 

Many of the boys at New Beginnings come from high-poverty neighborhoods saturated with gun violence. As their Freedom Schools site coordinator Chelsea Kirk says, “Gun violence is not just something we talk about lightly at the Academy; in fact gun violence and the effects of gun violence are very real in the lives of our scholars . . . In addition to the letters, our scholars recorded the total number of people they have lost to gun violence in their lives. The numbers speak for themselves.”

In two dozen letters their litany went on: “My cousin died from a gun.” “My friend got killed.” “My uncle got shot.”  “My little brother got shot.” An even sadder message quietly emerged in some of the letters: while most were clear about the terrible impact of guns on their friends and families, several of the boys now believed that getting their own gun was the only way they could make themselves feel safer. One student who said he was at New Beginnings because of weapons charges explained his feelings this way: “I was carrying my gun because I had to protect myself from being shot. I’m a very smart young man, you can ask my teachers, my friends, and my family, and I plan to have a great future. But, first I must make it through the present.”   

These students are a very small example but too many children across the country feel the same way. In a nation with 315 million people and 310 million guns, urban neighborhoods are not the only communities overflowing with guns and teenagers in inner-city D.C. are not the only children who believe there are so many guns in our country they might need one too in order to survive. And what message did it give these students when Trayvon Martin, a teenager who looked a lot like them and was not carrying a gun, was followed, shot, and killed by an adult while doing nothing wrong and the adult was set free?

Unless we want to give up and agree that the only way to survive our nation’s gun violence crisis is for every adult, teenager, and child in America to own a gun, we need to provide common sense solutions like universal background checks and a ban on high capacity ammunition magazines—now. Our children are afraid for their friends, their families, and themselves. They know something needs to change. But they can’t get there without us—and they certainly can’t get there by arming themselves with still more guns.

Marian Wright Edelman is President of the Children's Defense Fund whose Leave No Child Behind® mission is to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities. For more information go to

Mrs. Edelman's Child Watch Column also appears each week on The Huffington Post.

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Enter this word: Change

Here's what others have said:

Submitted by Rin at: May 6, 2014
We need to rethink our national fixation on guns.

Submitted by JoyceD at: August 21, 2013
On and on it goes. Until this ''right to own guns'' mentality is changed, the killing and the dying will continue. We need to stop gun violence, get these high-capacity guns and magazines off the streets and out of the hands of everyone. As long as there is a gun, there is little incentive for change. We must get together and learn again Dr. King's message of non-violence and love.

Submitted by mskaran at: August 20, 2013
I am a 57 year old woman who was raised in a home where we had multiple guns. We all hunted, providing food for our household. I have never seen anyone shop or killed by a gun. Perhaps what we need are parents willing to be parents and teach children respect not only for others but also for guns. We were taught every gun is loaded and never point a gun at anyone. I am tired of the blame being placed on THINGS, ie. guns, not values. Lets place the blame where it really belongs. We are all important and have value!

Submitted by jimhadden49 at: August 19, 2013
My (now) five grandchildren and three of my wife's five, are off to a good start. More kids in straitened circumstances need help.

Submitted by Danny at: August 18, 2013
It's time that the old idea of FAMILY was taught, not just breeding to defraud the government. There is no such thing anymore as values. It is me me me. What could be more demoralizing than listening to someone brag that she is having her 10th or 12th baby with bubba because he. Makes great dark baby's. it's repulsive and it happens every day. What does that have to do with guns and violence? If you can't respect yourself what would you care about anyone else. You can't control the problem by taking away the guns, they will just use knives. Total lack of a family base. Mam, you have a valid point of limiting. They will just change clips faster. It all starts at home and in school. Social promotions?, look in our prisons

Submitted by Erika at: August 18, 2013
I hope that people work with ceasefire and other organizations to create the jobs and activities necessary to actually keep kids off the streets. it takes a concerted effort of people choosing to put thewir money where their mouth is regarding children. If the community,churches and people of faith really want to take action, they need to create the alternatives and wraparound services poor kids really need, and not wait for the gov't to do it all.

Submitted by myron halpern at: August 17, 2013
as long as guns are MONEY MAKERS,military or civilian the NRA is here to sstay

Submitted by Leslie at: August 17, 2013
I agree strongly, and had been in touch with Legislators in CT as well as Members of Congress about this issue. Though we have some good Gun Regulations in Connecticut, for them to be effective the laws must be effective Nationwide. Leslie Weinberg

Submitted by Cathy at: August 17, 2013
We need these voices to be heard. We must do everything we can do end gun violence. Thanks for your leadership, Marian Wright Edelman

Submitted by mm at: August 16, 2013
My personal feeling is that the 2nd amendment was to arm the militias to defend against the British. I have never understood how this was interpreted to enable citizens to be armed. That is why we have the police and the military. People need to be licensed to go hunting & fishing. For me, this does not make any sense. There are many instances when guns go off accidentally and kill even members of one's family.

Submitted by Anonymous at: August 16, 2013
I totally agree. I taught for Head Start and dreamed of the day when all children had access to education in their formative years

Submitted by Afraid at: August 16, 2013
It is truly a sad day in America when you cannot go out to eat in a restaurant without having someone sitting beside you with a gun strapped to their side. I can't help but wonder if this person is carrying a gun to hurt someone or to save someone. God please help us.

Submitted by Chaz at: August 16, 2013
Guns don't kill. People WITH guns kill. I haven't lost anyone to gun violence, but I've witnessed gun violence first hand, and it was stupid. No one was killed, but one person was injured, and the number of bullets fired could have killed or injured a passing pedestrian or someone driving a car...or someone in the house across the street, where there were 4 bullets in the wall.