"I'm Speaking Up To End Violence"
Fighting, drugs, gunshots—this is reality for many inner-city teens. But Gerron, 14, won’t let his surroundings define him.
By Gerron Moss as told to Jane Bianchi
When I’m walking home from school, I wish I could let my mind wander to a football play I’m trying to remember, or the Drake song I’m listening to. Usually, though, I’m too busy watching my back—or wondering if my video-game system will still be there when I walk inside my house.
This is what it’s like to grow up in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’ve seen corner stores robbed by teenagers. I’ve seen people beaten on the street. I’ve seen a guy shoot at someone out of his car window. I’ve had my house robbed three times. I’m sick of it!
Poverty makes a lot of people do desperate things, but kids and teens shouldn’t have to worry about getting caught in cross fire. It needs to stop.
FINDING A SAFE SPACE
Lindsay Heights is what you’d call an inner-city neighborhood. The houses are run-down or boarded up, the streets are dirty, and there’s graffiti everywhere. Some people are in gangs, and most people can’t afford cars or even bus fare. My mom and my older sister both work to support our family, and I’m applying for jobs, but money is still tight.
Since seventh grade (I’m a sophomore now), I’ve found a safe haven at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee after school. Someone told me that they had a football team, so that’s why I started going. But once I joined the club, the people there started to feel like family to me. It’s so nice to know that I can go in and talk to them about anything that is bothering me.
One day, in the fall of 2013, a senior program manager at the club, La’Ketta, heard us all talking about how frustrated we were by the violence. She had a great idea. La’Ketta said: “Why don’t we make a documentary about it?” She found people to teach us how to use video equipment, and then we interviewed community leaders, like pastors and firefighters. We talked about why the violence is happening, how it is affecting our neighborhood, and what we can do to put an end to it. We called it Can You Hear Us Now?
OUR BIG PREMIERE
The buzz for the film got so big that we were able to premiere it at a real theater—in front of a sold-out crowd of about 1,000 people! I rocked a blue shirt with a shiny white vest and a bow-tie, and I got my hair touched up at a salon. We even arrived in a limo and walked on a red carpet!
I felt like a celebrity. The local TV news channel interviewed me, which made my heart race. And in the Q&A session after the movie, this 5-year-old boy went up to the microphone and asked, “How can I be more like you?” It was the sweetest thing ever.
FEELING THE IMPACT
Since the premiere, I’ve seen so many new faces at the Boys & Girls Club, which means that our message got through to some parents—more kids at the club means fewer kids on the street getting into trouble. But that’s not the only effect. We’ve gotten calls from people across the country who want to show our movie too!
This experience has taught me that you don’t have to be an adult to make change. You don’t need to live in a certain neighborhood or be an elected official either. You can get up one day and decide to make the world a better place. You might feel timid, but trust me: You have more power than you think.
Image Credits: Jean-Marc Giboux/Getty Images; Gerron's Faves/Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection (Jaden Smith); James Minchin III/USA Network (Graceland); Shutterstock (Shrimp); Courtesy of Topps (Derek Jeter); John Lund/Blend Images/Getty Images (Dream Job); Courtesy of MTV Books (Tupac Shakur); Rick Davis/Splash News/Corbis (Drake); LUCAS JACKSON/Reuters/Corbis (Taylor Swift)