Sense of Purpose
Four Montgomery County teens who are pushing for stricter gun control
Photo by Liz Lynch.
As speaker after speaker at the March 24 rally addressed the pain caused by gun violence, Brenna Levitan held on to Emma Gonzalez, one of the most vocal of the Parkland teens, as they both cried.
“That was one of the most powerful moments for me,” Levitan says. “To know that no matter who we are or where we live, we have each other’s backs even if we’d never met each other before. That was incredible.”
Walking onto the stage, Levitan was stunned by the size of the crowd packed along Pennsylvania Avenue and spilling onto side streets. “I couldn’t see the end of people; it was so remarkable to see the number of people who really wanted change,” she says. Levitan, 17, was still feeling dazed after seeing George and Amal Clooney, singers Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande, rapper Common, filmmaker Steven Spielberg and other celebrities who had gathered with the students at the steakhouse. “I couldn’t believe what was happening all day,” she says. “Waiting in the holding area, everyone was so excited, exchanging stories. It was crazy to hear fifth-graders talking about gun reform.”
Levitan’s mother is an editor at a health care association, and her father is a computer programmer, and those genes are absolutely useful for their daughter’s leadership role in MoCo Students for Gun Control, handling press for the group and running digital platforms. Knowledge of her grandfather’s experience with gun violence—he witnessed the fatal drive-by shooting of his best friend’s father while growing up in Detroit—helps fuel her passion, as do the stories of gun violence told by Blair classmates who have immigrated to the United States from Central and South America.
Levitan is focused this summer on registering students to vote, and she is working on securing a statewide voter registration day in high schools. “In this area, the students are more politically aware,” she says, “and it makes it easier to have educated conversations and to start a movement like this one.” Her message to her fellow students is to take advantage of any opportunity to act: “This means if you can speak, speak; if you can march, march; and when you can vote, vote!”
In college, Levitan plans to focus on international relations and film; she’d like to work on documentaries about the political and social conditions in other countries. “I think all of this has made me more aware of my surroundings, about the whole country,” says Levitan, who was arrested in May while staging a “lie-in” outside of House Speaker Paul Ryan’s office on Capitol Hill. “It’s changed the way I view political activism. Talking to people in other communities about the challenges they face—they have more gun violence than we do. It makes me want to educate our community about the advantages we have.”