West Side students protest on June 3. (AustinTalks)

Kaylah Ester, a student at Michele Clark Prep Magnet High School, marched June 3 with at least 100 others to protest gun violence that occurs in Austin and throughout Chicago’s West Side.

“It’s important because I feel children should have a future,” Kaylah said.

So far this year, 48 shootings have been reported in Austin’s 15th Police District, according to the Chicago Police Department’s data (as of June 5). Fifteen people have died as a result of a shooting in Austin, according to the Sun-Times.

Her sentiment echoes the plea for justice and an end to gun violence shared by other students and parents, teachers and community organizers who took to the streets in Wear Orange events across the county on June 3.

In Austin, young people used their voices to demand peace in their neighborhood at BUILD‘s Wear Orange community. Departing from Michele Clark, the protesters peacefully marched to Moore Park with a call to “put the guns down.” They were escorted by 15th Police District and Cook County sheriff’s office vehicles.

“When we look out here, we see the representation of so many young people,” said Sgt. Jermaine Harris, who leads community policing strategies in the 15th, 11th and 10th police districts. “When we watch the news or we hear stories, we’re all told about the negative things that young people do … what we don’t always see is the great leaders [they are].”

At Moore Park, participants enjoyed music, food, sports and games. Several teens who attend BUILD’s mentorship and violence prevention programs participated in the free community event.

Hosting the event at one of Austin’s public parks highlighted the need for safe spaces that children and young people can use in their community. Charles Anderson, principal at Michele Clark High School, called on adults to come together to protect and lead youth toward positive paths.

“This world is not meant for our kids to not have a life. They shouldn’t have to stay at their house and never understand what we used to do when we were younger coming outside, playing with each other [and] learning how to socialize,” Anderson said.

Some of the young participants of BUILD’s programs showcased their talents in a musical performance of Marvin Gaye’s song “What’s Going On?” and a spoken word performance by the same name.

Author Anaya Young demanded justice and accountability: “Tell me about the justice system, tell me about the gun violence, tell me about police brutality … At times, I’m fearful of being seen as a criminal, I am fearful of my life being taken away. But though I’m fearful, I also have hope.”

The event also showcased what BUILD does to prevent youth from engaging in violence, including their after-school programs, peace sports leagues and mentorship opportunities.

“We’re about peace, and we’re here to show the community what we’re about,” said Martin Anguiano, BUILD’s director of community engagement. “There are so many senseless killings to gun violence.”

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