Each month, Seventeen Magazine honors one young person as a Voice of Change, someone who is making a difference in their community and the world at large. Today, Students Demand Action National Advisory Board Member LaTayla Billingslea was named Seventeen’s latest honoree. LaTayla is a high school senior in Georgia and a gun violence survivor.
LaTayla spoke with Seventeen’s Leah Campo about her activism, her future plans, and her advice for other young people interested in making a difference.
From the piece:
“LaTayla Billingslea was only in middle school when she learned, firsthand, how debilitating the emotional effects of gun violence can be. Her cousin Jasmine, a mother of two, was fatally shot when trying to escape from an intimate partner. The shooter was later acquitted on charges with a “Stand Your Ground” defense, which allows an individual to use deadly force in response to threat, even if they are able to retreat from the situation.
LaTayla’s cousin and her family never received the justice they deserved. LaTayla was left to not only grieve the senseless killing of her cousin, but worry if and when a similar situation could affect her family again. “I was overrun with emotions pertaining to her death, and wondering if it could happen to her, it could happen to anyone. It could happen to me, or my mother, or somebody else that I’m very close to,” she shared.
By the time she entered high school, LaTayla was determined to turn her pain into action. The Atlanta-based teen joined her local Students Demand Action chapter, which is a constituent of the Everytown for Gun Safety network. The organization provided her with the resources to meet and collaborate with other survivors, and work towards lessening instances of gun violence, especially among people of color.
17: What does being a Voice of Change honoree mean to you?
LB: It means that the work I am doing is making a difference, and that people are seeing what student activists across America are passionate about — we want to keep ourselves alive another day. It means that people understand that student leaders just want to feel safe and secure in our country, and the fight that we’re going through to get to that place.”
Read LaTayla’s interview here.