By 11 p.m. on a weeknight, 14-year-old M’kiyah Martin is usually in bed in her Philadelphia home.
But on Tuesday night, the Saul High School student and her father, Tyrique Glasgow, were just making their way out of the United States Capitol after a whirlwind day. M’kiyah, an emerging gun violence prevention advocate, had been invited by Sen. Bob Casey to be his guest during the State of the Union. She joined a handful of other Philadelphians as one of the youngest people in House chambers to hear the president’s speech.
Casey said in a press statement that he hoped M’kiyah’s attendance would “remind others in Washington of the grave task we have at hand not only to prevent gun violence in our communities, but to ensure survivors and those impacted by gun violence have access to the resources they need to recover and manage their trauma.”
Those resources remain limited at best, which is why in response to a 2018 Inquirer investigation about the lifelong burdens shouldered by survivors and their families, Casey and Rep. Dwight Evans cosponsored the Resources for Victims of Gun Violence Act. The bill, referred to the Judiciary Committee, promises to establish a federal advisory council to support victims of gun violence, and identify gaps in the myriad support systems. It’s long overdue and desperately needed.
Other than touting the importance of the Second Amendment, President Donald Trump largely omitted gun violence from his speech. Something that was noted by both Philly father and daughter — and the father of a teenage girl killed in the 2018 Parkland, Fla., mass shooting who was also in attendance. During Trump’s speech, Fred Guttenberg yelled out something along the lines of “What about the victims of gun violence like my daughter?”
The outburst got him ejected, but the question weighed on M’kiyah, who sat nearby in the gallery.
What about her 15-year-old cousin Rasul Benson, who was shot and killed while pumping gas for snack money at a South Philadelphia neighborhood gas station in 2018? Did his life matter? Did any of the lives of so many friends and family members gunned down in her short lifetime that M’kiyah struggled to come up with an accurate count?
What about the 100,000 people shot in the United States every year?
Or the 1,463 shot in Philadelphia last year?
Despite Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric, what about the domestic terrorists — white American men — who are bigger threats to our country than Muslim foreigners?
Since learning that she’d be in Washington during National Gun Violence Survivors Week, M’kiyah started to write down her thoughts, some of which she got to share Tuesday with lawmakers and reporters, others that didn’t fit in a sound bite. She and her father said that even sympathetic lawmakers seemed distracted by Trump’s impeachment trial.
Did they hear her? M’kiyah wondered. Did they see her?
“When you look at me,” she wrote, “do you see a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher … or do you see the next gun violence victim?”
The experience was eye-opening, and despite being exhausted, M’kiyah and her father talked all the way on their car ride back to Philly. They appreciated the opportunity to witness history, but they conceded that it led to some sobering realizations.
“Dad, he didn’t talk about what we wanted talked about,” Glasgow recalled his daughter saying.
As a gun violence survivor himself and former gang member who mentors neighborhood kids, he wasn’t surprised.
“People in charge have forgotten about what the actual purpose of government is about,” Glasgow said when I caught up to him Wednesday morning.
“It’s about the people.”
In Philadelphia and cities across the nation, he said, people in zip codes that have largely been forgotten are doing the work on the ground believing that some kind of hope and help is coming.
“But it never happens. It’s time to stop waiting."