Gun Control Activist Naomi Wadler Speaks at March for Our Lives Rally
On March 24, 2018, eleven-year-old gun control activist Naomi Wadler spoke at the national March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. The second-youngest speaker at the rally, she made an impassioned plea on behalf of Black women, who are disproportionately affected by gun violence.
In a later interview with the Washington Post, Wadler pointed out the discrepancy in media attention between privileged and marginalized victims of gun violence: “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 … I represent the African American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.”
Wadler was born on October 16, 2006, in Ethiopia. Her mother, Julie Wadler, adopted her from an orphanage in Addis Ababa in 2007 and brought her up in Alexandria, Virginia. Although Naomi did not grow up in an area rife with gun violence, she did have a personal connection to the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that galvanized the movement: A high school friend of Julie’s, Fred Guttenberg, lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland shooting. When Naomi learned this, she felt she had to do something. Indeed, as her former teacher in the fifth-grade Talented and Gifted program, Wendy Schudmak, told The Washingtonian, “Naomi had always been a fearless and compassionate child, with a sense of justice “well beyond her years.”
Wadler heard about older students organizing walkouts and protests and decided to do the same at her elementary school, Alexandria’s George Mason Elementary School. Naomi and her classmate Carter Anderson led a walkout lasting eighteen minutes: seventeen minutes in honor of the seventeen Parkland victims, and an extra minute in tribute to Courtlin Arrington, a seventeen-year-old Black girl who was shot to death at her Alabama high school on March 7–an incident that received much less attention in the news. Naomi’s walkout attracted some media attention, and the March for Our Lives organizers took notice, too. A march organizer invited her to speak at the rally, and she immediately accepted.
Wadler’s speech at the rally launched her into stardom: Winning praise from celebrities, politicians, and activists, she went on to be photographed and interviewed for magazines, receive a BET Humanitarian Heroes award and a Webby award, and give keynote speeches at events such as Georgetown Law's Gender, Justice and Opportunity Initiative Launch. Moreover, as The Washingtonian reported, “The Smithsonian requested Naomi’s scarf from the march … and came to the house to do an ‘oral history’” with her, featuring the scarf in an exhibition on the history of young girls’ activism.
Baer, Susan. “What It’s Like to Become the Voice of Your Generation—at Age 12.” Washingtonian, August 11, 2019; https://www.washingtonian.com/2019/08/11/naomi-wadler-march-for-our-lives-voice-of-generation/.
Beckett, Lois. “'Never again': how 11-year-old Naomi Wadler became a rallying voice of black protest.” The Guardian, March 31, 2018; https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/31/naomi-wadler-the-11-year-old-helping-lead-a-protest-movement.
Georgetown Law. “Naomi Wadler Delivers Remarks.” Georgetown Law Center on Poverty and Inequality: Gender, Justice and Opportunity Initiative, Accessed March 7, 2022; https://genderjusticeandopportunity.georgetown.edu/1193-2/.
Nirappil, Fenit. “The story behind 11-year-old Naomi Wadler and her March for Our Lives speech.” The Washington Post, March 25, 2018; https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/the-story-behind-11-year-old-naomi-wadler-and-her-march-for-our-lives-speech/2018/03/25/3a6dccdc-3058-11e8-8abc-22a366b72f2d_story.html.
Wu, Tara. “How Girls Have Brought Political Change to America.” Smithsonian Magazine, October 20, 2020; https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/how-girls-have-brought-political-change-america-180976070/