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Rep. Barbara Lee Shares Heartbreaking Story of 16-Year-Old Girl’s Death During House Sit-In

Rep. Barbara Lee Reminded Congress What Gun Reform Is Really About During House Sit-In


Sixteen-year-old former Girls Inc. student  Reggina Jefferies loved to dance. It’s how she expressed herself. She danced for church, for family, for friends. That’s what she was doing on June 15 this year, just before being killed by gunfire from an unknown assailant in downtown Oakland — dancing at a vigil gathering to honor two friends who had drowned.

It is what she may have been doing a year ago, in March 2015, to celebrate the short, focused life of another friend, 14-year-old Oakland resident Davon Ellis, who also lost his life to gun violence.

Like Jefferies, he, too, had a passion — learning. In fact, he was a star student:

“He was an honor roll student at Oakland Tech where he was a freshman, and had just been awarded a scholarship to attend Moreau Private School in Hayward this fall. His future was promising, I don’t know why anyone would do this.”

California U. S. House Representative Barbara Lee paid tribute to Ellis by reaching out to the young boy’s family. For his friend, Lee went further. She held up Jefferies’ picture before her colleagues on the Congressional House Floor, dug beneath the statistics and told teenager’s story. And she did so in the midst of what the country is calling the “House sit-in” — a non-violent demonstration by Democratic lawmakers in response to their Republican colleagues’ refusal to pass common sense reform legislation in the wake of the Orlando tragedy.

(See the video here).

Maybe she figured that making the case for gun reform by reciting the astronomical numbers of gun victims killed in aggregate — Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Mother Emanuel, Planned Parenthood, Orlando, etc. — was not enough, was crashing on deaf ears.

Maybe putting a beautiful teenage face from her district to the names of the dead, the fallen, the flickers of fire, who had their bright lives and far futures tragically extinguished, would sway hearts.

Maybe personalizing the bloodshed, honing in what a particular, church-going mother, in a particular community, lost, would elevate the volume of our government’s consciousness.

Or, maybe she’s telling it so that, in all the commotion, the real impetus for gun reform won’t get lost.

It means something that her Facebook post caption capturing her at the sit-in reads “Congress must debate common sense gun reform.”

It doesn’t say Congress should pass a “No Fly, No Buy” legislative measure — an anti-terrorist bill masquerading as intelligent gun legislation. It doesn’t say target Arab-American communities.

It doesn’t suggest that any of the victims — Jefferies, Ellis, Antonio Ramos, Torian Hughes, and so many more — were killed by people with ties to Isis or any other middle eastern radical Islamist group.

Debate common sense gun reform. That’s the caption. That’s the demand.

Amid all the contestation and controversy surrounding this recent move for gun law reform, Lee’s words and exhibition on the floor are worth latching on to, for, taken literally, they’re a  reminder to not settle for the first bill in front of us, and of the fact that every victim killed by gun violence is a passion that will never bear fruit.

Update 6/24/2016/3:28pm: Congresswoman Lee also shared Devon Ellis’ story during Dem. Sit-In.


Antwan is an educator, cultural critic, actor, and writer for Wear Your Voice Mag (WYV), where he focuses on the dynamics of class, race, gender, politics, and pop culture. Prior to joining the team at WYV, he was an adjunct professor in the African American Studies Department at Valdosta State University in southern Georgia, where he taught African American Literature. He has traveled the U.S. and U.K. showcasing a fifty-five minute, one-person play titled Whitewash, which focuses on the state of black men in the post-civil rights era. Antwan received his B.A. in English and Literature from California State University, Dominguez Hills, and M.A. in African American Studies from University of California, Los Angeles. He is a Ronald E. McNair Scholar and NAACP theater nominee.

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