"Gun violence is personal to me. It should be personal to you too."
Camille Allen spoke at Evanston's National Gun Violence Awareness event on Thursday, which was co-sponsored by Dear Evanston and Citizens' Greener Evanston. Here is the transcript of her speech. You can also watch her delivering her message in the video below. Compelling and moving.
Camille graduated from ETHS this May with honors. Formerly the Student Representative to the District 202 Board of Education and President of Student Senate, Camille is invested in student government and youth driven initiatives. In addition to four years of singing with ETHS Dazzling Dames and Bazao, Camille enjoyed writing as a News Editor/Columnist for the Evanstonian. As a member of the Leadership Board of Students Organized Against Racism (SOAR), Camille is dedicated to anti-racist work and believes that subversive leadership and collective impact can combat gun violence in our community. Camille will attend Barnard College of Columbia University New York next year.
"Hello! For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Camille Allen. It’s truly an honor to speak here today and it’s hard to believe it was just a few short weeks ago the Class of 2016 at ETHS walked the stage and graduated. The ceremony, I’m sure, was like many others in past years. Parents swelling with pride, graduates fending off butterflies in their stomach and the arena bustling with relatives.
"But this year, our ceremony was different. We still heard the National Anthem, Student Welcome and Commencement Address. But our program took on a more somber tone when Dr. Witherspoon invited Tiffany Rice, mother of Dajae Coleman and founder of the Dajae Coleman Foundation, onstage to recognize our fellow peer who wasn’t able to walk with us. Dajae Coleman, a bright student, a talented basketball player and a loving son and brother, senselessly lost his life to gun violence my freshman year. Dajae would have graduated with us, but that potential was stolen from him when someone fired a gun.
"I didn’t have the pleasure of knowing Dajae, but I have friends who did, so the day he died, it felt like I was losing him too. I felt this loss when students stopped in the hallway and reached out to hug each other through tears. I felt this loss when I witnessed streams of students leave school to gather at the site of his death, dedicating flowers, candles and love letters to his name. And I felt this loss when thousands in the arena bowed their heads in a moment of silence.
"Dajae’s death made gun violence real to me. It’s one thing to see gruesome violence on TV, or listen to songs that glorify owning and sporting guns, but it’s another thing entirely to truly understand that murder, caused by gun violence, from a drive-by shooting or a case of mistaken identity or a domestic conflict turned into assault with a deadly weapon, always has effects that ripple far and wide. One death can break hearts. One death can tear apart relationships between even the closest of family and friends. One death can upturn and upheave an entire community. One death, the death of Dajae, someone I could have had the opportunity to call my friend, smile at in the hallways and cheer on at basketball games, taught me that gun violence is about more than the pull of a trigger. Gun violence is a painful symptom of a larger systemic issue in our communities and our nation.
"Because it hasn’t just been one death. Data from the Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund finds that on an “average” day 91 Americans are killed with guns. On an “average day” seven children and teens are killed with guns. In an “average” month 51 women are shot to death by a current or former boyfriend or husband. Gun violence silences voices and destroys communities, but as many of us know, it kills the black, brown and female more than anyone else.
"Black men are 10 times more likely than White men to be murdered with guns. The presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the risk of the woman being murdered by five times. And that’s just the national data. The New York Magazine found that in Chicago, the neighbor we know and love, over 3,000 citizens were shot last year. One local site estimates four Chicagoans were shot and killed last week alone, and that 81.8% of this year’s homicide victims have been Black."
"So where do we go from here? It’s clear that it won’t be easy, and I don’t have all the answers. But as a proud product of this community, an ETHS graduate who can recite the names of peers lost to gun violence, a daughter of a concerned mother who lovingly sought out Evanston to raise me, seeking safety, and the younger sister of a Black brother who has been forced to bow his head in fear, gun violence is personal to me. It should be personal to you too."