Civil talk about guns? See Americans make it happen

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Who's left out of the polarized us-vs.-them debate about guns in America? 
Ambar Ramos thinks she is. 

As a 28-year-old Latina from Boston, she wants the world to know not all NRA supporters are white, middle-aged men.

"I was raised by my grandmother ... I grew up hearing all these awful, awful stories that she would tell us where she was always the victim. I was like, "OK, that is never going to be me. All these laws, all these gun controls, also apply to people like me. I am that law-abiding citizen. I am just that girl living by herself in the middle of in a big city. My safety concerns also matter."

Also left out, says Daniel Boykin, are the stories of black Americans who grew up with legal firearms and with the desire to protect their families. The Denver millennial runs the Ogun Gun Club, part of the National African American Gun Association. Born and raised in Alabama and Mississippi, Boykin's organization works for the rights of black Americans through armed protection and community building, especially welcoming African American members of law enforcement and the military. 

Boykin said the needs of black Americans to better protect themselves has been too often ignored, especially in rural communities. "We believe especially in self defense against white supremacists," Boykin said. 

Ramos and Boykin were two of the 21 people who came together for two days of dialogue about guns and gun violence as a part of the new national journalism project, "Guns, An American Conversation," and are featured in a new video from Time, a partner in the project.

The Guns project was originated by the 10 news organizations that make up Advance Local, and is happening in partnership with Spaceship Media, the Newseum, Essential Partners and Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting, as well as Time. 

Gathered in the Newseum, just steps above the March for our Lives on March 24, Ramos and Boykin, traded stories with people like Melanie Jeffcoat, a mother from Homewood, Ala., who survived a school shooting more than 30 years ago, and now is the Birmingham Lead with Moms Demand Action.

The conversation was facilitated by Essential Partners, an organization with a mission to  foster constructive dialogue. 

To Ricardo "Cobe" Williams, former prisoner and the son of a gang member, now the deputy director of Cure Violence in Chicago, the chance to explore across political and cultural divides is a precursor to finding solutions.

"You see a lot of gun violence all over the world right now. It's affecting everybody. It's making the country sick. So it's important to keep talking about this and think about some solutions and thinking about how we can come to some common ground." 

This week, the 21 project fellows will join 130 other Americans in a moderated online discussion based on the "dialogue journalism" model pioneered by Spaceship Media in 2016 with its Talking Politics project bringing together Donald Trump voters from Alabama with Hillary Clinton voters in California.

As the project moves to its online phase this week, the 21 "project fellows" who came to D.C. reflect below on their concerns, their experience so far, and their hopes for the future. 

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