Something that I have always been really serious about is social injustice. I like to address very real and serious issues in and out of my community. I have always liked to use my photography and filmmaking skills to address issues that some try to avoid. I feel that certain issues need to be pushed to the front and seen in a way that is respectful, but impactful and almost unfiltered.
Something I am very serious about is the issue of gun control and gun violence. I participated in one of the many March For Our Lives events that occurred all over the globe on March 24, 2018. The main event that I helped organize was held in Military Park, Newark, New Jersey (my hometown).
This march was to help spread awareness to the issue of gun control and gun regulations. Gun issues have been an unfortunate occurrence in Newark for a long time and more recently been an issue inside classrooms across the country. This platform was a good place to connect the conversations affecting gun violence of youth in my neighborhood.
Having lost relatives and friends to gun violence, I knew that this march was something I wanted to be a part of. My participation and the voice of Newarkers was more important than the role I would play. I was not expecting to be given such a large role in the event as a march organizer.
Preparation for this event was tedious, the number of chain emails and group conference calls I had been a part of in that short planning time was more than I had done in my life. We planned everything down to the second, things like what performance goes when and for how long. We even calculated how long the march should take and how many bathrooms would be needed.
Even Though I sat in for those parts of the call and read multiple emails about it, I was told my main responsibility was making sure we had photography volunteers to cover the event. I would be in charge of showing them what type of photographs and angles we were looking for. That is what I'm good at, so imagine my surprise when I am asked to speak.
I felt as if there were so many other people who could speak up about things that they have experienced, besides me. The experience was so humbling, being on stage in front of such a large crowd speaking my piece when I was completely fine being on the side. One of the people who I helped organized the march with was actually friends with a student who lost their life in Parkland.
And I know from experience that it's always hard when talking about loss, and I have never been good at talking in the first place. The whole reason I signed up to help in this march was to take pictures of raw emotion. I never thought I was going to get up and speak in front of all those people.
I almost didn't want to, I actually wanted to read a poem another student wrote. But then one of the adult organizers, Elizabeth Meyer spoke to me; this whole day was supposed to be about intersectionality. My views on this subject are not less important because I never had the worry of someone coming in to shoot up a school.
It's almost the opposite in Newark, the schools are safe. We have metal detectors and security guards everywhere, but the minute we leave school...it's a different story. This was something Elijah, another student from Newark talked about; and I was so glad he did.
Even Though I was nervous to be given such a big responsibility, I appreciated the importance and priority of the march being lead by students and more specifically having Newark students present. Elizabeth always spoke of the importance of hearing from people who actually live in Newark, so this event wasn't held without people who live in the community.
This event was important because it opened doors and discussions that needed to be had between young people and adults in power. A couple days before the march students from schools throughout New Jersey, myself included were invited to convene and sit down with the Mayor of Newark Ras Baraka and the former mayor, now Senator of New Jersey Cory Booker, in a Newark public school. The theme of that day was us being leaders, and even though I didn't have a lot in common with most of the kids in this room, I knew that this would link us forever.
The day of the event many important figures in not only the Newark community showed up. Many showed up for the event; Governor Phil Murphy, Commissioner of Education Lamont Repollet, Senator Teresa Ruiz, Councilman Anibal Ramos, Councilwoman Mildred Crump, Councilman Luis Quintana, The Acting Superintendent Robert Gregory, Members of the Newark Public School Board (like my mom Kim Gaddy:)), as well as mayors and council people of other neighborhoods and cities in Newark. This was a great day for change and awareness, even if not everyone sees it that way.
Me, The Commissioner of Education, and My Friend Jordan
I read an original poem that I wrote specifically for the event, it was a spoken word piece that depicted how I truly felt about gun violence. How there is violence everywhere, not just in urban communities. How many kids get to read there work to a crowd of a thousand people. When I spoke it felt like they really heard me; I remember how my hand shook and my voice cracked. I actually had a cold that day, but there was no way I could miss this. I stuttered over my words and I almost never looked up at the audience.
I walked away silently when I finished and all I could hear was my heart stuttering, I didn't even pay attention to the crowd. Here is what I said that day:
My name is Frankie Walls. I am one of the student leaders of this march, I was born and raised right here in Newark. Though I have never experienced a school shooter, I have experienced the loss of so many relatives and friends due to gun violence. Here is my poem: Guns Don't Bring Life, Just Death:
When I was younger I would hear gunshots at night
I would pretend they were fireworks just to sleep right
My cousins died at the hand of a gun
A little girl at a funeral, isn't that fun?
Some say they're sorry for my loss or that they feel my pain
But sometimes I wonder how they can truly feel the same?
Do they get scared or jump every time they hear something slam?
Do they never speak up because they believe no one gives a damn?
See I live in a city and people think we're all big and tough
But living in the city has made my life quite rough
Sometimes my mom is scared to let me outside,
I can't even walk to places, she says I need to get a ride
My city isn't dangerous, any neighborhood could be
I know my mom is worried because she doesn't want to lose me
Her friend lost their son while he standing by his car,
One shot to the back because the bullet wasn't far.
He wasn't the target, the bullet was a stray
But knowing that won't take the pain away.
How can we trust the lives of people with this weapon of destruction
What else is it for? It's a tool that can't be used for construction
A gun is a gun, one shot and your dead
How can a cop protect me with guns pointed at my head?
I remember when I got off the stage someone from WPIX 11 asked if they could post my a video of me saying my poem, on their website and on their social media. I was shocked, to say the least, but I was proud, this was proof that my words could carry power.
Then came the actual march, and the rest is history. I am so grateful I had this opportunity to share my story. And I hope if you are given the chance to, you will too.