Houston Teen Ignites Push for Gun Violence Prevention

*The Breakdown is The North Star's daily analysis of an essential news story designed to provide historical context, go beyond the popular headlines, and offer a glimpse of where this story may be going next.

Key Facts: A Black high school senior named Marcel McClinton is running for a seat on the Houston City Council. McClinton, a 17-year-old student at Stratford High School in suburban west Houston, has emerged as a national youth leader in gun violence prevention over the last year.

Historical Context: In 2016, a shooting close to McClinton’s church, Houston’s Memorial Drive United Methodist Church, put the congregation on lockdown for four hours. The anxiety felt during the lockdown was emotionally and psychologically difficult for the teenager, who described the ordeal as “a terrible experience.” “I’ve never prayed so much,” he said.

Nevertheless, he survived the trauma and translated his experience into political activism related to gun violence prevention, particularly focused on school shootings. In 2018, he co-founded the gun violence prevention group Orange Generation and co-organized March for Our Lives Houston.

Beneath the Surface: “Kids go to school today, and they’re terrified,” McClinton recently told Houston reporter Isiah Carey. His work on gun violence prevention—which he considers a public health and security issue—takes many forms. McClinton served on Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner’s Commission Against Gun Violence, where he joined a racially, ethnically, religiously, and generationally diverse coalition of community leaders. His cohorts include Nation of Islam activist Deric Muhammad and Rev. William Lawson, a Black pastor and activist who worked with Martin Luther King in the 1960s. On Thursday, the commission publicly recommended legislative action, sufficient funding, and administrative changes for the prevention of gun violence.

Empathy and compassion inform McClinton’s politics. After the May 2018 Santa Fe High School shooting in the Houston metropolitan area, McClinton attended a community vigil, not to march or to speak, but simply to grieve with survivors and stand in solidarity with other high school students.

Tapping into a long Black Civil Rights tradition, McClinton’s efforts are rooted in a commitment to his local community–yet his mobilization efforts transcend the Houston city limits. Like Civil Rights activists of a previous generation, he leverages technology such as Twitter and other social media to spur change locally and nationwide.

McClinton’s quest for a seat on Houston’s City Council connects to Democratic Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Jody Casey, O’Rourke’s former campaign manager, has been serving McClinton’s campaign in an unofficial advisory role. What’s Next: McClinton graduates from high school this spring. Before donning his cap and gown, his campaign will launch during an event on February 23 at Stratford High School. “I have so much love for my city, and I want to make change now and tomorrow,” he said. “I love the activism side of politics.”

About the Author

Phillip Luke Sinitiere is a Sections Editor at The North Star. He is a historian who writes on race, religion, culture, and society. He teaches history and humanities at the College of Biblical Studies, a predominately Black school located in Houston’s Mahatma Gandhi District. Sinitiere is the author or editor of several books including Protest and Propaganda: W. E. B. Du Bois, The Crisis, and American History; Salvation with a Smile: Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church, and American Christianity; and Citizen of the World: The Late Career and Legacy of W. E. B. Du Bois.