Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Tyrek Marquez (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

HARTFORD, CT — In August they helped organize a rally with kids from Parkland, Florida to make sure “no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than the timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues.”

On Saturday they got back to work on their next steps.

With gratitude for Nelba Márquez-Greene, the mother of 6-year-old Ana Grace, who was killed along with 25 others in Newtown in 2012, the group of students, none of whom is old enough to vote yet, set to work determining what recommendations for preventing and reducing gun violence presents a good reason to vote. Marquez-Greene rode with the students to Newtown on Aug. 12 and inspired and guided the students.

The students are with Hartford Communities That Care Leadership Academy and Program Director Edward Brown III asked them Saturday to speak about their experience in Newtown at the March for Our Lives event.

Joshua Fee of Hartford’s Classical Magnet School and Dayzra Bournes of Windsor High School were the two youth from the group that got to address hundreds of people gathered in Newtown that day.

Fee told the crowd that day that there’s gun violence in their community not because they’re “black and it’s not because we’re in gangs — we are not. And it’s not because we’re not smart—all of us want to attend college or be in a trade. It’s not because we’re lazy.”

He said they’ve been working on research to prevent gun violence and all violence in their community every Saturday. Bournes listed some of the recommendations that group has come up with to prevent and reduce gun violence.

In Connecticut, deaths by firearms dropped from 226 in 2012—the year a gunman took 26 lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School— to 165 in 2013. Despite passing some of the strictest gun laws in the country, the number of firearm related deaths was back up to 172 in 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The recommendations Bournes and Fee spoke about at the rally were the same ones the group was going over again Saturday trying to determine which ones they should focus on as the midterm election draws near.

From investing in high-quality child care and early education to ending mass incarceration each of the youth gave different thoughts that would motivate them to vote in the upcoming election, if they were able.

Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie
Dazzalyn Townes talks about meeting Martin Luther King’s granddaughter. (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Tyrek Marquez, another student in the group, said mass incarceration has a huge impact on someone’s life because once they are released they won’t be able to find a job and make money.

“It ties into every topic,” Marquez said.

Bournes said it also ties to another recommendation from the group, which is organizing resources to support entrepreneurs.

Fee said when a parent is sent to jail sometimes the child in the household has to step up and support the family. Unable to get a job sometimes they resort to making fast and quick money in the drug trade or some other illegal enterprise.

“You take away that one person from that household it impacts the family, it impacts the child, and that’s the cycle of poverty,” Fee said.

He said with the income from the parent who was incarcerated they may have been above the poverty line and now they’re below it.

“It changes their whole perspective in life too because when you take away someone from the family it changes your whole life,” Bournes said. “It changes your perspective on life.”

Bournes and Fee were able to hand U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy the recommendations they made when they got off stage Aug. 12. Fee was also excited that Murphy retweeted a link to the WNPR program  that included Fee speaking about the experience and what the group is doing in the community.

The community is also excited about what the students are doing.

Rev. AJ Johnson and his wife, Melinda Johnson, stopped by to hear about what the students were doing.

“It takes bravery to go and challenge systems,” Rev. Johnson said.

He said what the students are doing is organizing and asking the hard questions about why poverty exists and why gun violence is happening.

Mrs. Johnson, who works for the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund (CWEALF), said when she was a teenager and thought about government and who was up on Capitol Hill making these decisions she thought about “these really important people who have all of these money and have all of this experience and that’s why they’re the senators and state representatives.” But after going to the Capitol she said she realized these are “regular people” who got put into “these fancy positions to make these big decisions and as much as they’re average people they’re not average people with the same lived experience that you have.”

She said legislation will always be from their perspective “and the laws they pass will always be from their perspective unless we have a voice. Unless we say something. Unless we show up and let them know that there is another side to this story.”

Part of getting their recommendations to a wider audience is the next step for the group.

Marquez is headed to the Eighteen X 18 summit on Sept. 29 in Los Angeles, California.

Founded by Black-ish and Grown-ish actress Yara Shahidi the program is an effort to encourage first time voters to get to the polls. Marquez is one of 100 delegates from across the United States selected to attend the #WeVoteNext summit.

The summit is designed to bring together a diverse delegation of young people to discuss the issues that are most important to them and decide how elected officials should address them.

Brown, who will accompany Marquez, said they plan to get the tools they need to spread the word about their recommendations at the summit.