My name is Maria Fernanda Meza. I am a 17-year-old junior from Hueneme High School in Oxnard.
As a member of the Central Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), I was recently given the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. alongside other Ventura County Youth Leaders, to advocate for the safety of our communities.
It was a great honor to stand in the place where American history has been made.
At the Capital, we were given the opportunity to participate in the March For Our Lives that was organized by the survivors of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The students of Parkland Florida used the platform that day in March to convey their message that gun violence needs to end.
They shared the stage with other young Americans who have had firsthand experiences with gun violence. Young people from South Los Angeles, Baltimore and Chicago all shared their stories of gun violence and how it has changed their lives.
Although it has changed their lives entirely, these young people are using their traumatic experiences to advocate for safer schools, neighborhoods and malls—and safer lives overall.
The march was both an empowering and emotional experience that is very difficult for me to put into words. I still remember the feeling of hearing the traumatic experiences that these kids my own age had to endure and live through.
One of the most inspirational speakers to me was Edna Lizbeth Chavez. As a young Latina from a low-income community, I related to her experiences of seeing candle lights, balloons and flowers set up often on local streets to honor the lives of young people that are victims of gun violence.
Like Edna Chavez, my school has its own on campus police that continues to criminalize young black and brown students. We are being over-policed, and our schools are slowly becoming prisons. We cannot arm our teachers as if they are maximum-security prison guards.
Gun violence has taken too many lives, and there needs to be a change. No one should ever have to live in fear of being killed senselessly by a gun. There needs to be a ban on assault weapons and stricter background checks for the purchasing of handguns.
The marches were only the beginning for the movement against gun violence. I am so proud of the Parkland students and the other young speakers for their courage to take such a traumatic experience and turn it into something powerful.
We are not finished yet.
Maria Fernanda Meza is a high school student from Oxnard and a member of the Central Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy.