Shantaal Lovera is a 17-year-old high school student going into her senior year at WHEELS. In the future, she wants to be involved in dentistry even though she isn’t too fond of science, so that may change. Her biggest inspiration is her mother because her mother played both the mother and father role in her life, which she is very grateful for. The person she really looks up to is her sister. Because her mother worked so often, her sister had to step in and help raise her.
Shantaal grew up in Washington Heights and has had her fair share of positive and negative moments. She shared that her favorite thing about living in the Heights is the community.“It’s probably just like building the family that I do have; it may not be blood but the bond that everyone just has here is crazy,” she says. “Everyone knows each other through some way. You always see someone you know and it’s comforting to know that there’s a community that stands with you and is with you”.
The downside, she says, is the violence that occurs around her. The earliest experience she had with gun violence was when she was just five years old and heard about the shooting of her neighbor, who passed away. Even after this heavy incident, she still has to experience threats like this in her everyday life. An example is when she became aware that her best friend had a hard lock down [at school] and it scared her. It just goes to show that it is a never-ending occurrence in a lot of communities that doesn’t stop for some or only affects a few.
This is why she chose gun violence as her topic. It is because of her personal ties to it, and her drive to make better and safer communities. “That’s why I’m so interested in gun violence and why I find it so necessary to put a stop to it,” Shantaal says. “That was the earliest experience I had with gun violence and to have experienced it in my neighborhood made me feel unsafe for a long time”. This is why she believes it is important to help bring awareness and let people know that it can happen anywhere to anyone.
With such a heavy topic, it was delightful to hear about the childhood memories she held. She says she wishes she spent more time enjoying being a kid. While listening to her stories of singing songs to her grandmother in the Dominican Republic, there was a sense of realization that rolled over when talking about the beauty of being a child. A lot of children in poorer or broken communities are forced to grow up faster because they are exposed to the dangers of society and those around them. It has become a cycle, and if it is not broken, children will continuously be forced to adapt to these conditions rather than change them and be the better version of themselves.
It is clear that gun violence is one of the topics that can change the way these communities are shaped, and Shantaal, who is passionate about this and cares for her community, will be able to excellently portray this. —By Rocheana H.