Stoneman Douglas Graduate Inspires You to Get Creative About Making a Difference
Jammal Lemy is a creative director, author, filmmaker, and fashion designer who uses art to impact the world and advocate against social injustice. After losing his best friend, Joaquin Oliver, in the February 2018 Parkland shooting, Lemy turned grief into action. He became the creative director for March for Our Lives, and produced multiple pieces of clothing that went on to be sold worldwide. Lemy uses art to empower change and is at the forefront of the largest youth movement in history.
Q. Tell me about your mission, how did you get started?
LEMY: My mission has always been using creativity to change the world, and that was sparked in 2018 after the Parkland shooting when I lost one of my best friends, Joaquin Oliver. The event propelled me to become creative and speak out, and it became a space where I genuinely wanted to put all of my time and energy. Since then, my life has really been dedicated to fulfilling that mission.
Q. March For Our Lives (MFOL) has accomplished so much over the past year—from driving record voter turnout in the 2018 midterms, to helping pass the H.R.8 bill on background checks in the House. A little over one year later, what’s the most important thing you’ve learned?
LEMY: We’re all so much more connected than we perceive. There’s a narrative prevailing in society that arbitrary lines exist to separate and divide us, and while there’s some truth in this, we also need to take into account the fact that we’re all pursuing a common goal: safety. My time with MFOL exposed me to a growing movement in America by people, both young and old, who are tired of what our country looks like and are interested in making an intentional, focused effort to change the course–both socially and politically–of our system.
Q. The QR shirt you designed for the March For Our Lives movement was sold worldwide to thousands of people. How has design helped promote your cause, and how do you translate the pain you, and others, have experienced from gun violence into something tangible with which people can connect?
LEMY: Wow, that’s a heavy question! Design is a way of communication, and for me, the QR campaign came from the idea that civic engagement was going to make or break the midterm elections. The goal was not only to register as many young people as possible but to involve them in the political process and inspire them to become more active and engaged. The MFOL team saw the power of creativity, through art and design, as a tool for awareness and change.
Q. As a filmmaker and designer, you’ve found outlets to develop your voice of activism. Rather than being at the forefront of debates or discussions, you’re guiding the conversations instead and using your art to shape a narrative into a story with purpose. Is there anything you’ve learned about the influence of your own voice from behind the camera?
LEMY: For myself, being behind the camera allowed me the space to create a story around a specific conversation, which, in this case, was gun violence prevention, and inspire people to have these conversations in a wide range of circles. I’ve learned that the people you don’t see on screen are sometimes the most thoughtful, insightful individuals who genuinely care about these issues and are continuously trying to find new ways to communicate their cause through the lens of film. It’s taught me that I have to keep finding inspiration, both within myself and from others, to continue making meaningful work and ensure the conversation remains in the spotlight.
Q. What do you wish older generations understood about young people today, and how does social media play into that?
LEMY: When it comes to older generations, my message is always ‘it’s never too late.’ I’ve come to understand that while young people are inheriting this country and must “fix the mistakes” of older generations, working with our elders is incredibly important to making a transition that’s as cohesive as possible. Honestly, it’s about bridging that gap and creating a unified push to accomplish our goals, and social media is a huge proponent in that.
Q. How do you inspire engagement from individuals who often don’t prioritize issues, like gun violence, because they themselves haven’t been personally affected? How do you suggest we galvanize voters, across all ages, to care and to work with those in underserved communities to unite against a common issue?
LEMY: Advocacy among individuals who aren’t affected by gun violence or aren’t concerned about pushing the needle forward to end gun violence can be low, but we can change this by utilizing different tactics. First off, we should never push an agenda on people; to get people to listen we have to make them feel something, make our cause personal, and avoid prioritizing some sort of mechanical plan. Second, when it comes to underserved communities, who face the reality of gun violence in a much greater magnitude, it’s about offering some form of hope, some plan of action that is intentional and mindful to their situation. Last summer, the MFOL team marched throughout the whole country, visiting 60 communities in 60 days, and during that travel we met with both people who have been involved and affected by gun violence for generations, and those who have never even heard the sound of gunshots. The one thing that connected both groups was the tactic of sharing our experiences and exposing the reality of what gun violence looks like in America. We have to make it known that no one is exempt from being the next grieving mother, brother, sister, friend, or even victim.
Q. You, and the other March For Our Lives organizers, have been incredible in keeping the conversation of gun-violence prevention (GVP) in the limelight. What advice do you have for students activists around the country who are passionate about the cause but don’t know where to start?
LEMY: The easiest thing to do is to find a group around you who is actually doing work in GVP, but everyone has their own way of contributing. Whether that be individually, through a school or club, or with a designated place of worship, there’s no superior method of advocacy. For the success of GVP, we need people across the spectrum to support our cause, and all young people are welcome. Where there is passion, there will continue to be more innovative ideas and efforts to end gun violence in America.
About the Author: Amelie Zilber is a high school junior using journalism to change the world through her website, newsletter, and consulting services. She writes and publishes a weekly political newsletter summarizing the week’s top headlines in a quick & entertaining fashion, and writes opinion pieces for her website, TwoMinuteTimes.com. Amelie founded KnowYourWorld, a project aimed to engage youth voters around the country, in coordination with California Congressman Eric Swalwell. Striving to create more global awareness, Amelie wants to ensure her generation, the future leaders of America, are knowledgeable and empowered to step up to the plate.
This Q & A was featured in the July 14th edition of The Sunday Paper. The Sunday Paper inspires hearts and minds to rise above the noise. To get The Sunday Paper delivered to your inbox each Sunday morning for free, click here to subscribe.