Local teens are answering the plea of impassioned youth in Parkland, Fla. who called on communities nationwide to take action against gun violence.
On March 24, youth led anti-violence group We LIVE will host March For Our Lives Indianapolis at 11 a.m. at the Indiana Statehouse. The event is an opportunity for the community to support Florida while seeking solutions to youth violence in Indianapolis.
Ramatou Soumare, 17, is helping to organize the march. Their goal, she says, is to pressure politicians to pursue gun control reform.
“I hope people realize just how deep it is, and I hope seeing so many young students standing up for this problem will apply pressure to politicians to change gun laws,” said Soumare.
Eighteen-year-old Brandon Warren, the founder of We LIVE, wasn’t always an activist. A couple of years ago, he was a typical high school student whose interests included playing varsity football and hanging out with friends. However, tragedy prompted him to fight for change in his school and city.
“It was an odd day, the whole day was odd. (My friends and I) would usually be together in the cafeteria, and no one was together,” said Warren, who had to leave town that evening and therefore could not catch up with his friends. That night, a notification on his phone woke him from his dreams.
“I saw that it said, ‘Northwest side of Indianapolis, three gunned down, one dead,’” said Warren. “I ignored it and went back to sleep. I eventually found out that it was (my friends), and I felt selfish.”
Warren Central High School students Angel Mejia-Alfaro, 17, Dijon L. Anderson, 18, Darius Moore, 19, were victims of the shooting. Moore and Anderson played football alongside Warren and were close friends off the field. Mejia-Alfaro was pronounced dead at the scene of the shooting, and Anderson and Moore were transported to Eskenazi Hospital where Moore was released and Anderson succumbed to his injuries after weeks of fighting for his life.
“I’m from the Far Eastside of Indianapolis, and before then, if (the news headline) did not say the far eastside I would ignore it. But Dijon wasn’t the first person I lost from homicide. It inspired me to start a movement because it hit so close to home,” said Warren.
While school shootings such as the recent Florida tragedy easily gained national attention, what is often ignored, said Warren, is violence in urban communities. According to data from IMPD, there were nine juvenile homicide victims in Indianapolis in 2017. IMPD also reports having nine suspects under the age of 18. That is an increase from 2016 where there were four victims and one suspect.
Sergeant Kendale Adams with IMPD knows communities are looking for solutions, but feels there is no easy answer as to why youth violence still happens.
“It is a complex issue, and I know in our community we want to know why,” explained Adams. “It really is multifaceted — from families, to education systems, food insecurities, healthcare and family values that are broken. A lot of these things lead to not only juvenile crime, but crime in general.”
While Warren knows the issue is complex, he feels youth are the best resource to reach youth. He founded We LIVE to inspire students in schools across Indianapolis to come together and work toward change. The group’s name came from the phrase “We live, baby!” which the social media-loving Anderson often proclaimed while making videos. Today it has a double meaning as the students find novel ways to ‘Link to Intercept Violence Everywhere.’
“The last event that we held, Take A Stand, had Carmel students, Zionsville students, and with what we are planning now we have teens from Fishers and other high schools throughout the city of Indianapolis,” said Warren.
Soumare feels March for Our Lives will be equally impactful.
“This march is for youth, led by youth, and it’s run and organized by youth. I want people to understand that yes, we are young, but we see the problems and we are doing something about it.”
For more information on We LIVE, visit www.weliveinc.org.