In 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic was worsening in the United States, then 16-year-old Alé Ortiz was inspired to join the Students Demand Action Summer Leadership Academy to learn how to make positive change in their community.
“I was inspired to do it because that was a time when COVID was really picking up, and I saw that gun violence wasn’t slowing down in my community,” Alé said. “It was only getting worse, and that didn’t sit right with me.”
Alé, from the Highland Park neighborhood in Los Angeles, California, first heard about the Summer Leadership Academy through a peer on Instagram. The 10-week-long, student-led program introduces high school students to gun violence prevention advocacy, and educates and empowers them to make a difference in their own communities. The program interested Alé, and it inspired them to start their own journey in advocacy.
“I learned so much about gun violence. I walked in knowing nothing, so walking out, I definitely did walk out with a greater knowledge of it,” Alé expressed. “I haven’t stopped my advocacy… It’s been a pretty great journey since.”
As part of the program, students are encouraged to develop a proposal that would help to reduce gun violence in their communities. Students then work with their mentors to create viable and thorough proposals including everything from budget to objectives to tools needed to implement their proposal. Alé’s proposal during the 2020 program was for a podcast on gun violence prevention—a project that they would continue even beyond the Summer Leadership Academy.
“Alé thought of the project and they developed all of it from scratch,” Justin Funez, a 2019 alumni of the Summer Leadership Academy Program and an organizer of the 2020 program, said. “Later on, with the mentoring of other Students Demand Action leaders and staff, they were able to bring their proposal to reality.”
Creating the 3 Homegirls No Gun Podcast
After attending the Summer Leadership Academy, Alé knew they wanted to make their podcast concept a reality in the long-term—but they wouldn’t be able to do it without the support of their friends. That’s when they recruited Jamilex Soto and Julie Matamoros to join the podcast, which they would then name 3 Homegirls No Gun.
Jamilex first met Alé through a program they attended together at the University of Southern California where they had been roommates. They became fast friends with an immediate connection. Julie has known Alé since middle school, when they were both a part of the same feminism club at their school. While all three members of the podcast have not yet met together in person, they have developed a strong bond through this shared experience and the hard work they put into every single episode. They even call themselves “sisters.”
“Jamilex and Alé are such amazing people and do so much outside of the podcast, even outside of school,” Julie shared about her fellow podcast hosts. “They’re both very determined people and I feel like out of the relationship that we have outside of the podcast, like our bond as friends, has really built up to something next level.”
With their unique perspectives as young Latinx individuals from communities that are directly impacted by gun violence, they work to educate young people and adults alike. In each episode, Alé, Jamilex, and Julie provide their unique viewpoints on current events, gun violence legislation, and issues that are important to them and their peers. With guests like Congressman Jimmy Gomez, artist and activist Cara Levine, and others, they are working to share important information with their listeners.
“We’ve had some touching experiences with our guests because they always bring in something personal or how gun violence has impacted them,” Julie said. “It’s been alarming how many stories they have.”
The experiences they share on their episodes aren’t just focused on gun violence, but also on their lives as teenagers. The three hosts have grown their skills and advocacy through hosting and producing this podcast, and they hope their listeners will feel inspired to step up and make their voices heard in their communities.
“We don’t just talk about gun violence within our podcast, we try to implement some of our personal life in it,” Jamilex said. “With students, we try to make them feel comfortable and feel like they can do it—like get into college or even just graduate high school as well. That’s something really important.”
Julie started off on the podcast without much public speaking experience but has seen her skills grow through 3 Homegirls No Gun. She hopes others walk away with the same growth and confidence that she has.
“I want our youth to speak up more and I feel that is very important because everyone is shy and timid, and ultimately I feel like people are very scared to get criticized,” Julie shared. “I feel like as long as your intentions are good, I feel like your opinions will matter. Coming from a not-so-good public speaker, I feel like this podcast has helped me progress in my speaking skills, especially talking to our guests over Zoom.”
They want those who listen to their podcast to walk away learning something new—whether they reach one person or one hundred people. 3 Homegirls No Gun has started small, but the team has big aspirations for the future. They want to see the podcast flourish.
“We’re starting small—we still don’t have a lot of following base—and that’s fine,” Jamilex shared. “I feel that within time, it will get out there and we will definitely be inspiring other teens and maybe even adults. That’s something that I consider important myself is having others be inspired and have them want to step it up as well and become activists.”
Through 3 Homegirls No Gun, even Alé, Jamilex, and Julie are learning something new with each and every episode. From start to finish, the process of creating podcast episodes starts with brainstorming, meticulous planning, and extensive research on the topics that they cover.
“I feel like as the podcast is growing, we’re growing as well,” Julie expressed.
Meet the Team Behind the Podcast
Age: 17 years old
Location: Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA
Aspirations: Would like to earn a degree in political science and public policy. After they graduate, they would love to work on Capitol Hill or in their local government.
Age: 16 years old
Location: Huntington Park, Los Angeles, CA
Aspirations: Hopes to go to college to pursue a degree in electrical engineering.
Age: 16 years old
Location: Highland Park, Los Angeles, CA
Aspirations: Wants to pursue a degree in Chicano studies to become a professor and pass on knowledge to future generations.