“I became hopeless. But now seeing the impact young people are making, that we are making as a nation, me normalizing gun violence is beginning to change. Because normalizing it is justifying that it’s ok. And I cannot do that. We cannot do that.” -McDade
At 19, D’Angelo McDade is a powerful example of how teenagers and students from any walk of life can be successful in leading the fight for social justice and gun reform.
When he was a sophomore at North Lawndale College Prep High School in Chicago, McDade became an involved member of the Peace Warriors Club, founded in 2009 by Tiffany Price. As a senior, McDade spoke at the March For Our Lives rally in Washington D.C., and appeared in Shawn Mendes and Khalid’s music video “Youth”, making a powerful statement about the harsh realities of gun violence.
Currently, McDade serves as the executive director of the Peace Warriors Organization, which grew from a small club to a consortium of 17 chapters in cities across the country. While studying educational policy, sociology of culture and economics at DePauw University, McDade still oversees the organization and continues to lead efforts against injustice.
McDade took the time to talk with Affinity about his experiences with gun violence, activism, and being a young person trying to create beloved communities.
AFFINITY: Why is nonviolence important to you and your work?
MCDADE: Our nation is known for its historical violence. With the amount of African American or black bodies, you notice that their lives are constantly not being treated with value, integrity, or a sense of care. I had to be one of the people to change [and] reform. I care because each one of those students that are harmed, they reflect me, they embody my values.
What tips would you give people who are looking to get involved in activism?
- Recognize your community. Many of our young people want to make it to a larger platform when it comes to gun violence, before even getting involved in grassroots organizing and activism.
- Understand your self praxis. Very often we forget to figure out and reflect on how gun violence or the school to prison pipeline has affected us, given us advantages, or testimonies.
- Sit at the feet of your elders. This does not mean that you have to adhere to everything that they say. For example, my mother has always told me, “stay in a child’s place”. As you can see, I’m disobedient. I’ve never listened. There are some things that call for civil disobedience.
- Never lose faith in yourself, your work, or what you’re fighting for.
- Understand what you are fighting for, before you even begin to fight… It’s about becoming educated.
- Direct action. This is where we begin to create our plan to move forward.
“We are survivors. Let me say for you: We are survivors. We are survivors of a cruel and silent nation. A nation where freedom, justice, equality and purpose is upheld,” says Chicago student D’Angelo McDade https://t.co/jujbxM0M4i #MarchForOurLives pic.twitter.com/R3kL4fzHi5
— CBS News (@CBSNews) March 24, 2018
You were the victim of gun violence in 2017. Had you accepted gun violence as a part of your everyday life before that?
There were many days before I was shot that I really did not know the impact gun violence had on our communities. Being affected personally and seeing how many of my friends, family members, and classmates were affected, showed me that if I was not going to utilize the testimony of being shot to move forward and challenge these systems, we [would] not actually begin to find a sense of peace in who we [were].
Have you seen any changes as a result of your activism?
I have seen changes. One would be Chicago public schools, specifically charter schools, have begun to institutionalize peace warrior and restorative justice programming in panels.
The second would be the hope of our nation and the hope of our young people. The young people have begun to acknowledge the power which they possess, not only within their voice or academics, but that lies within their spirituality, sexuality, as well as in their [academic] stance. We are beginning to create an environment that is diverse, inclusive and empowering our young people.
We’ve been told that we have to be silent. We’ve been told our voices don’t matter. We’ve been told we don’t have a right to challenge places of power. Now, since these things have taken place, we’re starting to see that when the young people speak up, systems begin to crumble.
How would you challenge elected officials to get more done?
I’m a strong believer in marches and protests. In students [walking] out of school, taking systematic oppression to the doors of these elected officials, reaching out to elected officials, having a sense of activism. The little things become major.
You spoke at the March for our Lives rally. How did it feel to have such a large platform to deliver your message?
Getting up there, it became a little bit hard to figure out what [I] wanted to say. When I got there, someone pointedly told me that I would be talking at people. I’ve never in my life wanted to talk at someone. I wanted to talk to people, so they could understand the message which I was bringing. I’ve always had people to talk at me, to undermine me, to scream and tell me who I was and who I was not. I wanted to begin that conversation with acknowledging that young people who are being impacted by shootings are at once survivors, victors, and victims of our harsh realities.
How do you talk with people rather than at them?
Any time I’m called to give a speech, I have to arrive four days before. So that we can create a cohesive understanding about what is happening in our communities and get a game plan on how we can make change. I begin to walk around the community and have conversations with the individuals: ‘I’m here to gain a sense of what’s going on. I’m here to help you fight, to reform, to understand your civil rights; what we can do as young people, what we can do as adults, and what we can do as a community.’
How do you make people understand that gun violence is a problem across different neighborhoods and demographics?
Alex King, who is my partner in crime (many people say he’s the Malcolm X to my Dr. King), we began to institutionalize this idea of “a life lost is a life lost .” With that becoming our theme, we’ve begun to challenge the concepts of the existence of gun violence, diminishing gun violence, and reforming gun regulation. When a person is impacted by gun violence, the community is impacted.
Moving forward, what do you think are other solutions to gun violence in Chicago?
Institutionalizing civic engagement courses, so that young people can understand the power and authority they have. Having young people begin to counsel each other or become counseled. [Implementing] gun regulation or any form of civic or social justice within cities or our nation. Because let’s be real. Young people have a better sense of connection due to peer pressure. By having young people to set this trend of youth empowerment, of activism, people will begin to care. Particularly, those that are not affected everyday by gun violence, once they get involved, then we’re gonna see a change.
Is there hope for a future without gun violence?
I believe that people do have hope. But I believe that we’re missing action. When we begin to act upon our hopes, dreams, values and morals then we will begin to see the change we want, need and desire.
Right now, the PWO is seeking both financial help and active members to keep the fight against gun violence alive. Visit their website or contact McDade directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn how you can help.