I'm 11 years old, I live in Orlando, Florida, and for the past two years it seems everywhere I turn gun violence is a nightmare I can't escape from, no matter how hard the adults in my life try to hide it from me. Just a few miles from my home sits the Pulse Nightclub. We drive by it at least once a week and I have visited the beautiful, rainbow covered memorial out front to honor the 49 people who were shot and killed inside. Last year in my quiet, family-friendly neighborhood, two men attacked my mom in our backyard, put a gun to her head, knocked her to the ground, and robbed her while I slept upstairs. And just this week, kids at a school a few hours away from here in Parkland, Florida ran for their lives and hid from an angry shooter while 17 of their classmates, friends, and teachers were shot and killed.
Sounds like a bad horror movie right? It's not. This is the reality I'm growing up in.
I have anxiety and don't sleep well at night because I worry someone will hurt me or my family. How does a kid protect him or herself from someone with a gun? I have talked to my parents about what I should do if someone comes to my school or home with a weapon. And, as of this week, my teacher now locks the door to our classroom from the inside—"It's procedure," she said. But I know why it started this week, right after the Parkland school shooting. It's to make it harder for someone with a gun to find us, just in case. I've been through lockdown drills in the past couple of years at different schools. We practiced hiding under desks and staying silent so we'd know what to do if someone tried to attack us.
But can you really ever prepare for something like that? And is it really our job, as kids, to save ourselves from gun violence in our homes and schools?
Adults seem to think so. Just this week, the people who make the laws here in Florida wouldn't even have a discussion on gun control. They voted no to a debate. How can they ignore such a big threat to our society? To their children?! In making that decision, they made it crystal clear that it is up to us kids to save ourselves, whether lawmakers want to admit it or not.
What they may not realize though, is that we're up for the challenge. And we've been preparing for this fight, even if we didn't always realize it:
When I read Malala Yousafzai's book I Am Malala a few years back, I remember being so shocked that girls in her country were scared to go to school. I couldn't believe that she was shot by the Taliban just for standing up for her right to get an education without fear of being killed. Yet here we are, in America, watching kids getting shot in a place where they are just trying to learn. Obviously, I felt emotional when I read Malala's story, but it seemed so far-fetched, like it would never happen here. I felt so safe then, but I was still inspired by Malala. "One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world," she said. She showed me that a young girl is able to make a difference just by using her voice and her words. I had no idea I'd be using mine to speak out on such a similar topic, but it seems that now's the time for girls like me to start standing up and fighting back, just like Malala taught us.
Katniss Everdeen, the lead character in The Hunger Games series, is one of my role models. Her character stood up to powerful leaders who weren't protecting their citizens. In those books, the leaders put children in danger. Kids were forced to learn how to fight or they could be killed. Katniss, a child herself, decided enough was enough and started a revolution. When I read these books, I never realized actual kids in America would have to fight for their lives, too, and stand up to our own government. But here we are.
Just last week, I was lucky enough to see Hamilton on Broadway. I have been obsessed with the soundtrack for more than a year, but watching the cast of actors, all from different backgrounds and cultures, tell the story of how our country was created by a group of people who were not afraid to RISE UP and start a revolution was incredible. I sat in awe with tears streaming down my face while I realized how many people risked their lives and gave up so much to make a better, safer country for their children—for me and you. I can't help but think how disappointed they'd be if they could see the way things were going now.
Then, this past weekend I watched as kids who survived the Parkland school shooting stood up and spoke out about gun violence and how we need gun control, so no other kids would have to go through what they survived. I watched as Emma Gonzalez spoke about all the excuses adults give for why they can't discuss gun control of any kind. She led a crowd of people chanting, "We call BS!" I'm not even allowed to use that word, but I completely agree and I'm here to stand with her. She's a hero.
Yes, we may be young. You might think we don't know what we're talking about and that kids like me should focus on playing with friends, doing homework, and just enjoying our childhoods. Well, we would love to do that—and that's why we're speaking out! But when the adults and leaders in this country are too afraid, too divided, or too selfish to talk about smart ways to protect us and keep us safe someplace as basic as our schools, you leave us with no choice but to fight for ourselves. When adults say the solution to the gun problem is for us kids to have more drills, to teach us to hide under our desks and lock the doors instead of talking about passing laws to protect us, well, you're teaching us that we have to be the ones to fix this, and quickly, before other kids lose their lives.
I may only be 11, but in seven years I can vote. And I will memorize the names of the people who wouldn't vote to keep me safe and will make sure they are gone. Until then, I will speak out and write and try to make my voice heard. Maybe one day I won't have to shout and the people in our government will just listen, but I am tired of adults telling kids like me to be quiet about what is happening to us and our friends in this country. They've left us with no choice. If we're old enough to be expected to learn how to survive a mass shooting, then we're old enough to have an opinion on how to stop them from happening. When it comes to my own life, I think I deserve a say. All kids do.
My mom and dad always tell me that kids are strong and powerful and we can do anything we set our minds to if we work hard enough. They are absolutely right. It's time for the boys and girls in this country to work together to be the change we want to see.
We are the next Hamiltons and Malalas of the world and someday one of us will even be the president. When people my age are in power, I know we will care more about protecting our future children than protecting the guns, the automatic rifles that are killing thousands of us a year. Children should never again fear for getting an education. Enough is enough.
But don't worry, you won't have to wait long for the revolution—it's already starting. Just look around, it's the kids who are leading the way. We've got this. We'll fight for ourselves and for you, too. We've been preparing our whole lives for this and it's just the beginning.
"There's a million things I haven't done. Just you wait." - Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton: An American Musical
Kaia James is an 11-year-old writer from Orlando, Florida. Her articles have been published on Buzzfeed, The Mighty, Huffington Post, PopSugar, Yahoo, and YourTango. She also writes a regular column for Girls' World Magazine.