Black Joy in the Gun Violence Prevention Movement
Silence isn’t and has never been an option.
In a world where you’re met consistently with the stark reality of deeply ingrained problems that need to be addressed—inequities, human suffering, racism, sexism, and of course, gun violence, it’s easy to fall into exhaustion, bitterness or despair. I, like many others, jumped into this work because of the things that are broken, wanting to lend my time and passion to something that could make a difference for many.
Tapping into joy, love and community is what sustains me in this work. As a Black queer woman, it’s even more critical that I roll up my sleeves and get to work on issues that disproportionately impact my family and communities. Because when those with the greatest chance of facing these challenges get reprieve, everyone wins. But there are so many stories of loss, grief, disparity or inequity related to Black bodies—women’s bodies and queer bodies. And if you’re not careful, you can be pulled into a pretty helpless place or even internalize these things.
There are definitely times that I feel these burdens even more acutely, but my faith helps to bring me clarity of purpose. It reminds me that while there is much to be done, there is no reason to think that I need to do it single handedly. Not only am I part of communities of people that have been laboring for liberation and justice, I am part of a legacy of peoples that have made a way out of no way.
For me, these are the moments when Black resilience shows up. I know that my resilience and identity are steeped in joy and can’t be confined by the limits of expectation. This joy blooms beyond lived experiences. It isn’t beholden to what was or what is. It lives instead in the realm of endless possibility, and because of that, it is powerful beyond measure.
In an average year, more than 25,000 hate crimes in the US involve a firearm—69 a day.
This joy is not only a product of my layered identities—it’s an antidote to the statistics that say you shouldn’t even be here. It’s the defiant act of finding beauty, grace and happiness when the system would rather you stuck to the pain, grief and frustrations it has dealt you. It’s refusing to let anyone else define you, the whole you, and what you have to offer this world.
For me, it’s as simple as being and trusting myself. I bring layers of Black tradition, culture, openness, resolve and resilience into any room I walk into. I know that while I am uniquely me, I’m not at all alone. There is a vibrant, beautiful community around me and ancestors who fought so that I could be here, with a seat at the table and the will and passion to make life better for the next generation.
And that work has never been more urgent, because gun violence is stealing our young people. My spouse and I have four children, and we are not the only moms who have heard our children say, “I don’t know if I’ll make it to 25” or “I can’t think beyond college.” And that’s not how it should be. But as mothers of Black children, we know that this public health crisis that’s tearing our country apart takes a disproportionate toll on our families.
I felt called to contribute to this life-saving work because of the countless stories of gun violence impacting my city, Washington, DC, and especially the southeastern part, where we have chosen to raise our family. I felt compelled to join this fight after having the privilege to meet the courageous survivors who do this work every day so another family doesn’t know their pain.
I joined this movement to stand with Black leaders who have been fighting for a future free from gun violence for decades. Because our voices as Black people are vital. We are a beacon of resilience. We are a source of knowledge. And we know what our communities need to be able to not just survive, but thrive.
I also believe that we as queer Black people have a critical role to play, because for some of us, simply living as ourselves—in our skin, with our hopes, in this world—is an act of resistance. We’ve seen so many hateful anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed in recent years that seek to make us go away by banning people from even speaking about us. We’ve seen so many horrific acts of gun violence that seek to erase the LGBTQ+ community and terrify and intimidate us. And we’ve seen so many young LGBTQ+ people take their own lives when they feel that this world is saying they shouldn’t even exist.
So as I work shoulder to shoulder with grassroots advocates, I try to be my best self every day. I allow joy, grace and faith to be the anchors that keep me grounded when times are tough. For these, I look back to our ancestors, because the Black community has the overwhelming ability to find joy in the hardest spots. It’s in our history and in our DNA. We believe that if we’re fortunate enough to see another day, we are given the gift of possibility. We can make different decisions, we can wrap around those with the greatest need, we can focus on the things that are most important, we can teach, we can learn. We can inspire.
And so that is the prism through which I view this work. So many lives have been needlessly stolen due to gun violence and so many survivors have thrown themselves into this advocacy to make sure that not one more family or community suffers. The least I can do is show up ready to get to work alongside them.
This public health crisis requires all hands on deck. I am proud of the gifts that we as Black people have contributed to the culture, health and wealth of this nation. I will never stop fighting so that we can thrive and live in communities where we feel safe. Because when we thrive, everyone thrives. And that’s a dream worth fighting for.
Black History Month
This Black History Month, we hold space for the Black survivors of gun violence and recognize the gun safety advocates leading the charge at all levels to keep our communities safe. We know that we still have a long way to go to end gun violence—particularly its impact on the Black community, and we’re holding space for survivors of gun violence and Black advocates to continue to effect positive change. We are continuously working to stop gun violence through both grassroots and national channels, as we focus on and elevate the work and successes of the many Black voices who have helped progress the gun violence prevention movement and keep their communities—and the country—safe.
Angela Ferrell-Zabala (she/her/hers)
Senior Vice President of Movement Building, Everytown for Gun Safety