June 15, 2022

Judiciary Committee Releases Testimony of Young Man From Chicago who Grew Up in the Middle of the Gun Violence Epidemic

19-year old Ernest Willingham grew up surrounded by gun violence, including losing his best friend to a fatal gun wound as a teenager

WASHINGTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee released Ernest Willingham’s prepared testimony during today’s hearing entitled “Protecting America’s Children From Gun Violence.”  Ernest Willingham is a 19-year-old college student at Northeastern University who grew up on the West Side of Chicago.  The youngest of 11 children in his family and the first in his family to attend high school or college, Ernest has multiple family members who have been shot, and four years ago his best friend was fatally shot.  Ernest joins today’s hearing to speak to the trauma that gun violence has caused in his family and community, the need for common sense gun reforms to reduce shootings, and the importance of programs that support survivors of trauma—which have helped him rise from a background of trauma and community violence to pursue his dream of becoming a doctor. 

Key quotes as prepared:

“I have seen my brother, my father, my cousin and my best friend become victims of gun violence… This is something that young people should never have to prepare themselves for, yet it remains the lived experience of so many children and youth around our nation.”

“After [my best friend] Jahnae’s life was taken from her and I moved through high school, I dealt with this constant interpersonal fear that I would be shot, and because of this, the trajectory of my career and education was on the line… I was the first male in my family to graduate high school (soon to be college), and I knew that college was the answer, but I was too afraid to stay home and possibly be shot and killed. I purposely did not apply to any schools near my home because I was afraid I was going to die from gun violence.”

“Our young people are faced with decisions to which they cannot find answers. Our youth are terrified, unsafe and pleading with elected officials in Washington to muster the courage to protect them. Our society, our government, our leaders must protect youth from gun violence.”

“We have wasted enough time discussing the problem, and now it is time we pass legislation to stop the killing of innocent persons. We are better than this as a country and we can solve this crisis. Gun violence is a multifaceted issue. However, it is the responsibility of the legislative branch of this government to initiate stricter gun laws and uphold a standard of safety for all people across this country. We cannot continue to allow what Jahnae Patterson’s mother experienced to become the norm for mothers and fathers across the country.”

“As another day passes without proper steps being taken, the people, the young people of our nation, are holding the legislative branch accountable for each life that is taken away while we wait. I plead with you to pass common sense gun legislation so children and youth can grow up in safe communities.”

Full text of Mr. Willingham’s prepared remarks are available here 

Full hearing on the impact of gun violence on children can be viewed here.

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