Kalaila Rollins was still wearing her blue school uniform and backpack as she led a protest through the Liberty Square housing project in Liberty City.
“We demand, justice. We demand justice,” she chanted.
Kalaila is 11-years old. A dozen of her mostly elementary school-age friends and some adults joined in her chants.
The injustice she is rallying against is the inability to play outside without the fear of getting shot.
“One time I was outside playing and a green car pulled up and I saw the guns and they just started shooting,” she said. “I actually saw it with my own eyes and I had to drop on the floor and crawl inside my house. What if something happened to me?”
Kalaila took a deep breath and started another chant: “We want to live! We want to live!”
There have been many protests to end youth violence in Miami-Dade this year. As young people continue to be killed by gun violence, the collective rallying cry becomes more urgent
Bullets have cut short the lives of 13 teens and children so far this year—a 6-year old, a 14-year old, a 15-year old. About one a week.
Over the past decade, more than 300 young people have lost their lives to gun violence.
After a child is killed, community leaders and politicians come together to decry the senseless killings. They talk policies, laws and possible next steps to prevent yet another child dying.
The adults are not the only ones fed up.
Jennifer Jean-Jacques was also at the Liberty Square protest. She’s in the fifth grade and she said she doesn't want little kids, like herself, to die.
And she doesn't want her quality of life to be diminished by bad guys who make it so that her mother won't let her play outside.
“We can’t go to our friends' houses even though we know where they at,” said Jean-Jacques who lives in the housing project.
She said her mom warns her that it's not safe in Liberty Square, that she can't do what other kids can do in neighborhoods where the sounds of gunfire are almost nonexistent.
This wasn't supposed to be a youth-led protest.
Tawana Akins, a teacher at Holmes Elementary School —just across the street from Liberty Square — actually planned the rally.
Earlier this year her 6-year old nephew King Carter was killed in North Miami-Dade.
She vowed to organize weekly anti-gun violence protests in memory of her beloved nephew and for the young kings and queens living in neighborhoods hardest hit by violence.
About a week before the rally, she told her students at Holmes Elementary that she would be near their homes across the street from Sherdavia Jenkins Peace Park—named after a 9-year old girl who was felled by a stray bullet 10 years ago in the same housing project where the kids live.
The rally started with Akins and a few of her colleagues.
“All of a sudden we see a parade of children marching from the school down to where we were on 62nd and 12th ave.”
And then, the students took over.
They came prepared, waving their own colorful protest signs with slogans like: “Enough is Enough,” “Put the Guns Down” and “Our Lives Matter.”
“After doing so many rallies, this one touched my heart the most because the babies were out here fighting for their lives,” said Akins. “They knew what they were talking about.”
Akins, a veteran teacher, knows that kids living in the housing projects have different survival rules, but even for her, it struck a chord to hear the children verbalize an innocent and succinct message as to why the gun violence needs to stop.
“They just want to play,” she said. “As a kid that’s how you learn, by playing outside. Looking at the different leaves, looking at the grass…Now you can’t do these things as a child? That’s ridiculous.”
As the protest came to an end in front of the Liberty Square community center where cheese pizzas awaited the small activists, Janiece Hill said she was worried about the gunfights that are far too common in and around the housing projects.
The 11-year old said she knows the bad guys are not aiming at her, but stray bullets are a problem.
“I don’t want to get shot nowhere and have be injured by nothing,” she said. "I want to stay with my family and never leave my family.”
Kalaila Rollins, the fourth-grader who was leading the protest chants, believes that she and her friends are just the people to better their community.
“I want a change to happen to this neighborhood,” said Kalaila. “Even though it’s called the hood, we can change it.”