South LA native leads students in combating gun violence in their neighborhoods

A gun violence survivor from South L.A. has started a program where students develop ideas and proposals to end gun violence in their neighborhoods.
SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The epidemic of gun violence can leave individuals feeling helpless. But now some students are saying, "enough is enough." They're taking back their streets and becoming leaders in their neighborhoods.

One of those students, Marco Vargas, shows us a solution to stop the shooting and save lives. Vargas is very proud of being a native from South Los Angeles, although it doesn't have the best reputation. It took years for Vargas to recognize he was a gun violence survivor.

Now 20-years-old, he's a student at Dartmouth College. In South Central where he grew up with his parents and siblings, they heard gunshots regularly, so much that the family called them fireworks. The shots and the danger seemed routine.

"My own personal experience as a survivor was, like, my father being an irresponsible gun owner who would threaten my mom, lots of domestic violence issues going on at home. And these childhood experiences coupled with gun violence being normal in the community contributed to me being thinking like, 'Hey, this situation, there's like nothing I can do about it.'" Vargas said.

Until a high school tutor introduced him to a local chapter of Moms Demand Action. It was shortly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. He attended meetings, became a volunteer and says that's when he realized what he experienced at home and in his community was anything but normal.

"I really became nurtured by the organization and began being comfortable sharing my own story as a survivor and realized that I could be a catalyst for change," Vargas said.

Determined to make a difference, Marco set out to create a summer program for high school students in his community. He did much of the leg work as a freshman in college, thousands of miles away from home. By summer of 2019 he had a program in place - hiking, community walks, and conversations with politicians, even a trip to Washington D.C.

"We went beyond South Central to network with other chapters," Vargas said.

The program evolved becoming the first South Central Students Demand Action Chapter, and is now 30 students strong. Together, the students develop ideas and proposals to end gun violence in their neighborhoods, and leading the way is Marco.

"We know that in communities like South Central, students want to do a tremendous amount of work in social impact, right, but there are barriers to becoming a community organizer," Vargas said.

The main barrier is money, which is why Students Demand Action's Summer Leadership Academy provides food, transportation and mentoring at no cost. Barbara King who is the organizing manager for Everytown for Gun Safety is the tutor who inspired Marco, now she says she has no doubt his summer leadership academy will inspire many more.

"He is a mentor among his peers," King said.

"Marco's vision is much grander and beyond just a one time summer thing. I think that it will become a national program that every town and city is going to want to take part in," King said.

If you'd like to learn more about Students Demand Action, text the word "Students" to 644-33.
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