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Students Demand Action Leader, Gun Violence Survivor Uses Experience to Start Summer Youth Programs in South Central LA, Nashville


Today, a piece published by The Trace profiles Marco Vargas, a Students Demand Action leader, gun violence survivor, and founder of the Summer Leadership Academy in South Central Los Angeles and Nashville. In the piece, Marco opens up about his own experience with gun violence. 

“One day, when he was about 4, Vargas remembers his parents arguing loudly, his father waving his gun in the air. He and his older brother and sister hid together in the bottom bunk in their room, under a blanket with a picture of a skateboarder on it. They heard their father hit their mother hard across the face, and threaten to kill her. Soon they heard sirens outside. Someone had called the police. His father ran out the back door, between the cacti and the guava tree in the backyard, and disappeared. When the police arrived, his mother asked for a restraining order.”

After attending Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action events, Marco started the Summer Leadership Academy, sponsored by Students Demand Action, to train young people in his neighborhood to become gun violence prevention advocates. 

“The program was so successful that Vargas asked for and received funding to expand it to three other cities in the summer of 2020: Nashville, Baltimore, and Atlanta. The programs included 10 paid youth positions — salaries that Vargas notes are critical for students from low-income households, whose parents are counting on them to help pay the bills during school breaks. With the onset of COVID-19, the Baltimore and Atlanta programs had to be delayed. But the South Central Los Angeles and Nashville programs have carried on remotely with impressive turnout, and he hopes the other cities will launch next summer, Vargas said.”

Summer youth development and employment programs provide young people with educational and mentorship opportunities, prepare them for the workforce, add income to their homes, and are proven to reduce violence. Many advocates were fighting for youth summer development and employment program funding this summer as cities faced revenue shortfalls amidst mounting coronavirus response expenses, causing city officials to make difficult budget decisions. 

Across the country, these decisions led to reductions and cuts to programs that are proven to reduce violence, including summer youth development and employment programming. New York City—which runs the most extensive summer youth programs in the nation—had initially planned to eliminate its Summer Youth Employment Program, but after pressure from youth advocates, like Teens Take Charge, restored the program to half capacity; Cincinnati and Norfolk also canceled their summer youth programming. 

More information about gun violence in cities hereIf you are interested in learning more about the 2020 Summer Youth Academy in South Central Los Angeles or in Nashville, or summer youth programming, please do not hesitate to reach out.