As millions around the world participated in last Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally, about 35 children aged eight to 10 participated in a debate at City Hall on whether guns should be restricted.
The discussion was organized by the Brooklyn chapter of Jack and Jill of America, a mother-led organization that engages in community service. Michelle Cornegy, whose husband is City Council member Robert Cornegy Jr. (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Northern Crown Heights), highlighted how the organization offers resources for children of color. The Council member made an appearance at the event to support recent anti-gun violence efforts.
“Our mission is to grow and to grow leaders,” she said.
Last year, children debated whether circuses should keep using performing animals. The debate featured a special appearance from Mayor Bill de Blasio. This year’s topic was chosen because of the recent debate around guns.
After several kids volunteered for the side they would argue for, they began to write their speeches—with their parents offering guidance—on large index cards for the discussion held that afternoon. A few parents offered their help such as Kenya Johnson.
Johnson found the event format helpful in teaching kids issues at an early age, especially for her special needs child, Jeremiah.
“It’s a wonderful that children in America have gotten civically engaged, and we could only hope that it makes a difference,” she said.
Tracy Wright, another mother, noted that her son Kaden already had an idea for his position for why guns are harmful. She too found the debate format helpful as an educative tool for children to express their opinions.
“I hope this is the seed for kids to come to City Hall and talk about issues,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights, Flatbush, East Flatbush, Brownsville, Sheepshead Bay) stopped by to deliver some comments to the students before the short debate. She asked them on a variety of topics, including where the House of Representatives is located and ways to obtain change in their schools.
Clarke understood how important it was to ensure passage of legislation in response to the shootings happening across the country. She noted that in 2003, while she was a City Council member, an individual fatally shot her fellow Brooklyn colleague James Davis a fellow Brooklyn colleague.
“This man was loved by everybody, and his life was taken by gun violence. So when I go to Washington DC, I get upset as well,” Clarke said.
Cornegy also commended the children for their efforts not only in forming their arguments, but also informing public leaders like himself on issues like gun control.
“What you do here today actually informs the way I perform, the way the Congresswoman performs on your behalf,” he said.
Before the short debate, the Ninth District leader said there does exist a demand to pass laws in Congress. She acknowledged the resistance from Republican lawmakers on bringing any gun-related legislation to the floor. Yet she felt hopeful a change would happen soon.
“As we build, as all of these folks who believe like we do, we know in the end we’re going to prevail. We’re going to bring legislation that’s going to change lives,” Clarke said.
The kids then took turns to share their reasons on whether guns should be restricted. Some argued that it could be used for self-defense, while those against highlighted that it presents a danger to the public.
They were unanimous and enthusiastic in supporting at least one issue—eating pizza after the debate.