To hear more from Mary-Pat, go to www.peacefirst.org/prize/winners/item/94-mary-patricia.
Mary-Pat Hector was fed up attending funerals of friends killed by guns. The 15-year-old from Lithonia is not the type to sit by and do nothing — she already is a leader in the Usher’s New Look Foundation, a youth mentoring organization, and the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network, which promotes civil rights. Mary-Pat decided to launch Think Twice, a campaign using statistics and graphic images about gun violence to convince young people to just say no to guns. Think Twice has attracted 10,000 people through social media but likely will draw even more followers. Earlier this month, Mary-Pat was awarded $50,000 to support her work from Peace First, a national nonprofit dedicated to teaching peacemaking skills to young people.
Q: You know a lot of people killed by guns?
A: A lot — four people I grew up with, one who was shot in the head. When I heard about that, I thought, “Oh, another person killed by gun violence.” Like it was normal. That is not normal.
Q: Why are so many young people attracted to guns?
A: It is not necessarily about the gun but about the person and what’s in their head. They don’t think about the daughter who will be raised without a father or the son who will be raised without a mother. That is why you have to encourage them to think twice before using that gun on another person.
Q: Where did you get the idea for the Think Twice campaign?
A: From shock ad campaigns on television. There are commercials that are anti-tobacco — they are gory. There are commercials against childhood obesity and crystal meth. I wondered why no one had done a shock ad campaign about gun violence. I felt like this was something I had to do.
Q: How has the response been?
A: Amazing. Think Twice was my service project for Usher’s New Look Foundation, which connected me with young people nationally. Of course, Peace First is helping us. One of the largest minority advertising agencies has signed on to assist us. Think Twice has grown more than I ever thought it would, more than I ever dreamed it would.
Q: Is the campaign directed at minorities?
A: No. Gun violence affects everyone, no matter how old you are, what color you are. A stray bullet has no name, no age, no preference.
Q: What does the campaign entail?
A: Right now, public service announcements, billboards, and, of course, social media.
Q: Are you for changes in the gun laws?
A: Right now, we are working on the campaign to get young people to think twice. We just want to have one focus at a time.
Q: A lot of kids your age aren’t doing this kind of thing. Why are you?
A: I always have been hands-on when it comes to community service and I have always been around young people who do community service. One of my close friends has an amazing organization that researches Alzheimer’s. A lot of young people want to do amazing things but their greatness has not been tapped into.
Q: What do you want to do with your life, big picture?
A: In 2044, I plan to be president of the United States. For me, that is totally possible. I have seen how much our country has changed, not just for African Americans but also for women.
Q: Even with all the mess going on in D.C.?
A: I can bridge the gap. People get so caught up in the politics and forget to serve people. I want to be part of the plan to fix things — even if my presidential experience is horrible.
The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.