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Reflecting on Media Coverage of Parkland: Which teens are treated as inspiring changemakers and why?

I, like many people, spent a large part of Valentine’s Day this year watching the news coverage of the mass shooting that took place in Parkland, Florida. My experience was a bit unique because I was watching with a person who is a survivor of gun violence himself, my boyfriend, Namel “Tapwaterz” Norris of 4 Wheel City. As we watched and I grew pained by the senseless violence, I flippantly suggested that we turn the news coverage off. Namel took my annoyance personally and emphasized that it was important that we bear witness as these kids are going through the worst day of their life.

He also emphasized that moments like these are what keep him committed to his art and activism, which center gun violence and the disability he has as a result of it. I appreciated his deep concern and compassion, but also realized that I’ve never seen so much media coverage when someone is shot in circumstances similar to the way he was — a Black seventeen-year-old living in New York City public housing.

In the days that followed the shooting in Parkland, Florida, I saw amazing student activists raise their voices and be heard. In the midst of all their pain, suffering, and trauma, they spoke for themselves and spoke out against the politics that allow people to obtain assault weapons. I heard the media and people on social media describe these students as articulate, smart, and future leaders. I agree that these students are all of these things.

However, I struggle to think of a time when students from impoverished communities, particularly students of color, were given a similar platform to share their concerns about issues impacting their communities and were described in a similar way.

To be sure, there are students of color who attend Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida. Some of the most vocal and well-known students appear to have Latinx last names. However, there appears to be a colorism in who the media chooses to cover. The faces that we have seen are either White or White-passing. This choice is particularly odd given that more than half of kids killed in firearm homicides are Black.

Black boys are ten times more likely to be killed than their White peers and four times more likely to be killed than their Hispanic peers. I echo the Parkland teens’ confusion about why changes were not made after Columbine or Sandy Hook, which also received extensive media coverage. But I am even more perplexed that our collective reference points for when children are killed by guns center around White children.

It may be the case that events are newsworthy when they are unusual and unexpected. Perhaps the American media has become desensitized to gun violence in communities of color and only takes notice when it happens in wealthier, Whiter communities. Perhaps it is a reflection of who is in our newsrooms and whose stories they relate to and deem worth telling.

When Farai Chideya attempted to collect data on the race of political journalists covering the 2016 election, she reached a brick wall from newsrooms and hypothesized it was because they were ashamed of their answers.

My personal experience as a co-founder of the Resistance Manual supports her hypothesis. Despite being one of the few organizations started post-election by someone with a legal background, and one of the youngest founders of a resistance organization, I was unable to convince political journalists to cover the Resistance Manual.

In the three months following the launch of the Resistance Manual, I was interviewed ten times. All ten of the interviews were conducted by women, six out of the ten were by women of color. Perhaps, our limited understanding of gun violence and who experiences it is informed by who is telling the stories.

I am glad that the students in Parkland, Florida are being vocal and are leveraging their access to PR firms like ScooterBraun to create political change for all people. I also believe that if all students were given the access to the education and resources that the students at Stoneman Douglas have been afforded after this tragedy, they could also be described as smart, articulate and future leaders. Still, it would require the media and the public being open to the fact that all students can possess those attributes.

Yesterday, United we Dream announced that immigrant youth will join the survivors of the Parkland mass shooting for the March for Our Lives in Washington D.C. on March 24th. We are witnessing the formation of a new intersectional student-led movement that is inclusive of all the challenges students face. I hope that, going forward, the media covers it as such.

The views expressed here represent the views of the author only. They do not represent the views of any organizations, people or employers with whom the author may be affiliated.