(The Washington Post) — The youngest speaker at the March for Our Lives rally Saturday made one of the biggest splashes with an eloquent speech urging the nation not to forget black women, who are disproportionately represented among the victims of gun violence.
Naomi Wadler, an Alexandria fifth-grader, became a hashtag, a meme shared around the world, praised by celebrities who included actress Lupita Nyong’o and comedian Eddie Griffin. The 11-year-old was heralded as future presidential material.
But Wadler hasn’t seen any of that: She’s not on social media.
“I have been accustomed to not Google myself, so I haven’t seen everything,” Wadler said Sunday in a phone interview during her spring break beach trip. “My speech might not have caused a giant impact on society, but I do hope all the black girls and women realize there’s a growing value for them.”
That was the focus of her 3-minute, 30-second speech, which was repeatedly interrupted by roars of applause.
[‘Never again!’ Students demand action on guns in nation’s capital]“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” Wadler said. “I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”
“For far too long, these names, these black girls and women, have been just numbers,” Wadler later said. “I’m here to say ‘Never again’ for those girls too.”
Many of the young people who spoke Saturday had personal experiences surviving shootings or losing loved ones to gun violence.
The path that took Wadler, who likes to sing, run and play tennis, to a worldwide stage started when the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., inspired her to activism.
Her mother, Julie Wadler, sat her down to talk about the shooting and shared a personal connection: A friend from high school, Fred Guttenberg, lost his daughter Jamie in the Parkland shooting.
Naomi Wadler was thinking about what she could do when she saw reports of high school and middle school students planning walkouts on the one-month anniversary of the Feb. 14 shooting. She and classmate Carter Anderson, a friend since kindergarten thought: Why not elementary school students too?
So, they organized a walkout at Alexandria’s George Mason Elementary School.
Like thousands of other students who helped organize walkouts, they wanted the disruption to last 17 minutes in honor of the 17 Parkland victims. But they decided to add an extra minute in memory of Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year old black girl who was shot to death at her Alabama high school March 7. That shooting, three weeks after Parkland, received far less national media attention.
Arrington, a high school senior, had been accepted to college and planned to become a nurse.
A study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last summer found that black women were more than twice as likely to be killed, and the most likely of any racial group to be shot to death.
“It’s subconsciously embedded into peoples’ minds that somebody with a darker complexion is worth less and their life isn’t as valuable as a white girl or man’s,” Wadler said.
Wadler also spoke at a gun violence forum hosted by her congressman, Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.).
Her walkout garnered some media attention that made the rounds on social media. March for Our Lives organizers also noticed.
While Wadler wanted to attend the D.C. march, her family suggested they go to a sister march instead so that they could proceed with their spring break vacation as planned.
Those plans changed Thursday when a march organizer called Julie Wadler and asked if her daughter would speak. Naomi agreed without hesitation.
George Clooney, one of the celebrities who bankrolled the march, called Thursday too, and mentioned he watched her interview with NowThis.