Sporting twisted locs and a crisp white tee, gun violence prevention activist Alex King doesn’t tell the same story as the school shooting survivors-turned activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Still, he told Blavity, the gun violence that pelts his West Chicago neighborhood cuts just as deep.
The 20-year-old organizer and speaker works with the Chicago chapter of GoodKids MadCity (GKMC), a community organization laying honey-lined traps to save kids from the violence and poverty that threatens to reduce them to grainy mugshots, plastered across national news. GKMC curriculum includes an athletics program centered on integrity and restorative justice, an arts program, police accountability efforts and even first aid training.
While gun violence has been known to plague inner cities like Chicago, the reality that perpetrators across racial lines typically commit crime within their own communities is less accepted -- a denial that has spawned the provocative “Black on Black crime” narrative.
“After people see something so many times, they normalize it,” he said. “With seeing coverage of so much Black on Black crime, it’s become the norm. On the other hand, Parkland, Florida, where one of the worst school shootings in history took place, was ranked the safest city before the school shooting happened. Going from one of the safest places you can live to a school shooting is going to get some attention. Now, a 17 to 21-year-old Black male getting killed in Chicago? That goes in one ear, out the other. But when the victims are of the other skin, now the issue has some urgency.”
In step with the young Chicagoan’s assessment, the Center for American Progress reported that Black men were overrepresented in news reports on crime, particularly in instances of violence. The “Black on Black crime” narrative is further animated by a news media more likely to show mug shots of Black people when compared to white suspects, the report found. Racist media narrative or not, King says the perception that Black people don't organize against intra-community violence is another harmful untruth.
In the process of being a walking contradiction to the aforementioned, King's work centers his community in the national discourse on gun reform: lost and forever-changed Black lives he says are left invisible in the glaring light that illuminates school shootings.In the new documentary film Us Kids, King joins young activists from Parkland, Florida, as the group campaigns for the gun reform that they believe will save young lives like those taken in the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.
“Audiences will see a bunch of kids fighting for change. No one wants to see a friend or family member in a casket, no one wants to see someone so close to their age in a casket," King said of the film's focus. "I know more than 10 people that I can name off, who have lost their lives to gun violence. Funerals, wakes have become the norm to me, and they shouldn't be. The film also shows that this isn't a color thing -- everyone is affected by this gun violence. We have to come together as one: Parkland, Chicago, Wisconsin, Las Vegas, no matter where you come from, your community has experienced gun violence.”The young activists are fighting for change in a moment stalled by political gridlock on guns. Early this year, videos surfaced of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), antagonizing a school shooting survivor from Parkland, Florida. Greene’s messaging was later amplified by Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-FL), who arrived in a virtual House committee meeting this February armed with automatic rifles.
Still, King told Blavity, the young reformers remained undeterred.When the 2017 killing of his nephew left a then 16-year-old King to mourn a loss he likens to the death of a brother, it was community groups like GKMC that to which he turned for steadiness in the sea of his grief. Today, he says, he remains focused on their mission.
“We are our weakest in those times of grief, even though we feel strongest by ourselves," he told Blavity. "Having a support system coming to lift you up even when you don't want to be lifted up is so important. With GKMC, it’s a place to be, a group to be around, and a space where you’re not dwelling in your sorrows, in your grief and thinking about what hurt you, what you’ve lost -- it’s a space to revitalize, think, a different energy. Sometimes you need that. Because the more you sit and think about the past -- your failures -- the worse you feel.”At 20 years old, King articulates the issues plaguing his city with the clarity of a young man who's seen enough loss to age him beyond his adolescence. Fifteen-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant, and why she didn’t survive her last encounter with Ohio police come to mind, as he outlines the de-escalation training GKMC extends to youth from Chicago to Baltimore.
“Everybody needs a little de-escalation training, and it could have saved Ms. Bryant's life very quickly,” King explained with a burdened sigh. “Knowing someone's tone of voice, knowing the predicament that they’re in at the moment -- just knowing. But with the officer going into the situation without knowing any of these things, and acting out of that ignorance, he didn't even try to understand. It was just shoot first and ask questions later. Let’s sit here and think about that. When is that ever okay? It baffles me.”King, who is a major proponent of the movement to defund police, contends with the abolitionist belief that the institution cannot be reformed. The activist explained: common misunderstandings of Black Chicagoans -- like those captured on the surprised faces he greets as an activist and speaker -- extend to how communities of color are policed in the city.
“Why are you policing a community you're not from? A lot of officers I've known come from gated communities but come to police Lawndale,” King said of the city’s west side neighborhood, where he grew up. “A lot of times these people's only time seeing Black people is on TV. They don’t have the right perception of us, because they don't come and have conversations with us. It hurts and it’s confusing to know that I can be hated -- or feared -- because of the color of my skin.”Still, like the long, rich history of Chicago activists that came before him, King says these days, he has his sights set on a brighter future.
“I know this work gets tough. Being asked, day in and day out, to tell your story -- it can get stressful, it’s frustrating,” he said. “I could wake up tomorrow and be like ‘Forget the activist work, nothing is going to change.’ But the movement -- Fred Hampton and The Panthers, they fought, even in the roughest times. I don't have to be here to see my world change. But to know my little sisters can grow up in a better place than I did, and that I was a part of that, that’s the highlight for me. I’m going to continue to fight as The Panthers did. Until change is made.”
Tune in to Us Kids to follow King’s work in the movement to end gun violence.