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Black Parkland Students Feel They're Not Being Heard In Gun Violence Discussion

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The mass shooting in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida kickstarted a national debate about gun violence largely driven by the school's students. But not everyone there feels like they're being heard. Nadege Green of member station WLRN reports that some black students are taking this moment to make sure they are visible, too.

NADEGE GREEN, BYLINE: Tyah-Amoy Roberts is a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

TYAH-AMOY ROBERTS: The reality of the situation is issues pushed by my white peers get more media coverage because that is how it is. And that is how it's always been.

GREEN: Roberts is very involved on campus. She's a step team dancer, vice president of a mentorship group and part of the school's debate team.

ROBERTS: And so how do we push and make sure that our voices are heard as well? We just keep talking.

GREEN: A few days after she participated in the March For Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., Roberts and some of her black classmates called a press conference. They wanted to highlight youth activism around gun violence has long been a part of the Black Lives Matter movement.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)

ROBERTS: Yet we have never seen this kind of support for our cause. And we surely do not feel that the lives or voices of minorities are valued as much as those of our white counterparts.

GREEN: Roberts doesn't think most news stories about the school represent her and her non-white classmates. And they want people to see gun violence in all its forms.

ROBERTS: Gun violence is also police brutality. And we know that, you know, police brutality, this personally affects black people and people of color. And so when talking about gun violence, we do have to have the conversation about race.

GREEN: She gives her most visible classmates in the Never Again movement credit for addressing racial disparity. This is David Hogg in a Twitter livestream event.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID HOGG: If this happened in a place of a lower socioeconomic status or a place where - like, a black community, no matter how well those people spoke, I don't think the media would cover it the same.

GREEN: A week before the shooting, Roberts helped organize a Black History Month show at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The day of the show, they decided to address the student letter in the school's newspaper entitled "All Lives Matter." Mei-Ling Ho-Shing is a junior and was one of the student organizers.

MEI-LING HO-SHING: The rebuttal was pretty much saying that the Black Lives Matter movement is a respected movement. And just because you don't have to experience it does not mean that, you know, it's absurd and ridiculous. That you don't have to experience the fear that when you have - take out your phone or go to get your ID, you know, that you may be shot.

GREEN: On stage at the assembly, the student reading the statement, her mic got cut off. The school district says it was an unapproved presentation. Ho-Shing says that feels like a double standard. Right now students from her school are being applauded for not asking for permission. They're speaking out, walking out and making their voices heard. Ho-Shing's mom saw how upset her daughter was when she got home from school that day. After that and after the school shooting, Vicky Ho-Shing encouraged Mei-Ling to channel her frustration into activism.

VICKY HO-SHING: You can't be full-out angry or else they're going to say you're the angry black girl. How do I interject my views? How do I influence change? How do I organize my friends? How do I get this all on one shared platform?

GREEN: For Tyah-Amoy Roberts, this is an opportunity to have those conversations even if they are uncomfortable.

ROBERTS: Marjory Stoneman Douglas is like a microcosm for the real world. Like, oh, yeah, Tyah, you're black, but, like, you're not black-black. But it's like, yeah, I am. I've had to tell so many people not to say the N-word. Oh, man, sorry. I thought we were cool. Just do not say it around me.

GREEN: Since the shooting, Roberts says she's seen her classmates have thoughtful discussions about the intersections of race and gun violence and even police shootings. For Roberts and her friends, they just want to make sure their voices and the voices of other students of color are not left out. NPR News, I'm Nadege Green in Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF MIKE VASS' "QUIET VOICES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.