There’s a big display in Isaiah Thomas’s 7th grade classroom. It looks sort of like a science fair project, only with more emotion and heartbreak behind it. It’s called "Done With The Guns," an effort to stop the epidemic of teen gun violence in South Florida.
"At first it was a sense of hopelessness, like oh, you heard some students saying no one can fix this problem, it’s gonna keep going, now they actually feel like hey, they’re empowered, we can fix this issue if we come together as a community," said Thomas, who teaches civics and law studies at Carrie Meek-Westview K8 Center.
As part of the school district’s Project Citizen initiative, the students in the class researched the topic and came up with possible solutions. They want the state legislature to try again to pass a law which would protect witnesses of gun violence, hoping to stop the "stop snitching" mentality while encouraging everyone to "see something, say something." They also want funding for more after-school activities to keep kids busy and conflict resolution programs to teach peace.
"Maybe we should try a little harder and help these teens so they don’t feel so cornered, they don’t know what to do with themselves," said Tasanii Jenrette, a student in the class. "Almost every day you hear that teens are getting killed and it’s really aggravating because sometimes it’s like kids don’t care, they just shoot, shoot, shoot."
In the past decade, more than 300 teenagers have been killed with guns in Miami-Dade County. Gun violence is so pervasive, its tentacles have reached right into this classroom.
"You never know who could be the person who could kill you, you never know," said student Kevin Jones, describing the fear that many kids have once they leave their school, located between Opa Locka and North Miami.
Their teacher has had friends killed in gun violence, and one student is still in mourning. Shaketha Allen’s life turned upside down a few months ago when her little brother, six-year-old King Carter, was killed in the crossfire of feuding teenagers.
"So it’s an issue that we all deal with and as a community we can’t continue to ignore this issue," Thomas said.
His class is certainly doing its part, writing letters to legislators, meeting with lawmakers and public officials, and using social media to get their message across with the hashtags #SaveOurKings and #SaveOurQueens.
"It just sends a message that at any age, students have a voice to solve problems, write policy, to do good things," said the school’s principal, Tracey Crews.
Now maybe it’s time for the grownups to follow the lead of these committed teenagers.