For 11-year-old Naomi Wadler, the day of the rally is a blur.

“I remember ... somebody is introducing me and I was walking around seeing all those people. I was so scared,” she said. “And then I went to a restaurant with some other kids and had chicken tenders.”

A year ago, Wadler became nationally known for her speech at the March for Our Lives Rally in Washington, D.C., where she wanted the crowd to know that black girls are victims of gun violence.

“I am here today to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news,” Naomi had said at the rally.

Naomi gets a hug from Jaclyn Corin, a student at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the March for Our Lives. Naomi was the youngest speaker at the rally. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)
Naomi gets a hug from Jaclyn Corin, a student at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at the March for Our Lives. Naomi was the youngest speaker at the rally. (Matt McClain/The Washington Post)

Naomi went home thinking nothing would come of her speech. She said it wasn’t until someone asked for her autograph on a napkin a few days later that it sank in: Her words had spoken to many people, including celebrities and other activists.

A year later, Naomi continues to spread the message, including through her recent debut on social media. But getting on social media wasn’t always the plan.

The opportunity to stand on that stage — before a crowd that cheered enthusiastically — started with a quiet moment.

Naomi and a friend organized a walkout at their school, George Mason Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. They dedicated an extra minute to honor Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old African American student who was shot at her Alabama school, three weeks after Parkland. Because the shooting wasn’t covered much by the national media, Naomi decided to speak out. She attended gun-violence forums hosted by local politicians and received media attention. March for Our Lives organizers noticed and asked her to speak.

‘A lot has changed’

Naomi is now 12 years old, a middle-schooler who sports cropped hair. She has traveled the country educating young people on gun violence.

“A lot has changed, and we’ve opened up a lot of people’s eyes,” Naomi said. “I’m really excited that I have the opportunity to be able to share my beliefs and to be able to connect to people, because not everybody has that. Overall, it’s just been invigorating.”

Joining social media, which she’s using to promote her new YouTube interview show “DiversiTEA With Naomi Wadler,” wasn’t an easy decision for Naomi or her mom, Julie Wadler. In December, Naomi told a crowd at a Smithsonian appearance that her mom was “against all social media.” The two “thought long and hard about it,” Julie Wadler said, before launching Twitter and Instagram accounts last week.

“This past year has helped me really understand the importance of having a voice. Being a part of the March for Our Lives rally was a privilege, but I also see it as a responsibility,” Naomi said Friday by email.

“I want to use that platform to uplift voices, stories and ideas of girls of color, and in order to do that, it makes sense to have an online presence.”

But Naomi says other kids shouldn’t compare themselves to social media influencers to get a message across.

“I want kids to know that success looks like you,” Naomi said. “So that means you shouldn’t look to others for a definition of success.”

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