In commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Freedom Summer Project, last week students from college across the country attended the Million Hoodies Power Summit in order to discuss how criminalization and gun violence affects their communities.  During the power summit students worked to become better activists by identifying critical challenges surrounding the mobilizing of change and the methods needed to eliminate criminalization and gun violence.  Some of the solutions discussed included divestment, lobbying, and the comprehensive use of social media.  Additionally several speakers, including CeaseFirePA’s Executive Director, Shira Goodman, were invited to address the students about criminalization and gun violence.  Shira educated the students about the importance of building coalitions with other groups in order to reach broad policy goals and push for common sense gun violence prevention legislation.

CeaseFirePA’s interns also attended the power summit.  Indeed, the summit served as an eye opening experience for us.  It began with a lesson about the importance of story and the way in which stories connect us to one another.  We learned that a good story has a challenge, a risk, and a choice.  Furthermore, a good story not only builds trust and connection but also utilizes emotions.

One by one as the participants began telling their stories, we found ourselves connecting to participants through common themes.  The shared emotional currents of fear, anger, frustration, hope, and joy all resonated with of us.  We found ourselves drawn into different variations of the story that all young people tell.  All of these stories start with our roots and the continuing search for identity and our place in the world.

The story telling exercise was not only about connecting with others, but also served as a broader lesson in how connection can be used in order to galvanize people into action.  Stories are a powerful tool that can be used to first connect and then motivate.  Although we tend to think of gun violence prevention in terms of statistics, the summit was a strong reminder that remembering the stories individual victims of gun violence is just as critical.