United Under an Orange Hue

“Party for Peace” memorial brings together leaders, victims, survivors, family, friends and activists

January 29, 2013, a young student was shot, her life devastatingly cut short: Five years later, Hadiya Pendleton’s story remains an important symbol in the movement to end gun violence — National Gun Violence Awareness Day was established June 2, 2015, what would have been Hadiya’s 17th birthday.

This year, Moms Demand Action (an affiliate of Everytown for Gun Safety) and the Pendleton Park Advisory Council teamed up to host a “party for peace” at Pendleton Park, (named for Hadiya’s in 2015) that also recognized many victims and survivors of gun violence. Hadiya’s family; Father Michael Pfleger of The Faith Community of St. Sabina; Illinois gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker; 3rd Ward Alderman Pat Dowell; and Debbie Weir, Moms Demand Action managing director, were all in attendance.

“This park is about being a symbol of hope for our children, where they can come and play and be children, enjoy life, develop a relationship with their parents and with the community,” said Alderman Dowell. Children spent the afternoon playing games, dancing, having their faces painted, and eating hot dog, popcorn and ice cream. There was a surprise visit by Chicago Bears mascot Staley Da Bear, and The Jesse White Tumblers and King College Prep marching band (which Hadiya had been a member of) performed.

Orange was Hadiya’s favorite color, and after she passed, her family and friends began wearing orange to honor her during her birth month. That small gesture of love was magnified and became Wear Orange, a nationwide movement in the fight against gun violence. According to Megan Kivarkis, a Chicago leader of Moms Demand Action, more than 450 events took place across the country during “Wear Orange” weekend.

“This is our largest event yet,” Kivarkis said. “It’s important to raise awareness, but [events] also serve as a call to action. Wearing orange is great because it’s important to honor the victims and survivors of gun violence, but it also gives people the opportunity to get involved, to take important steps toward real change.”

For some attendees, the Wear Orange celebration marked the beginning of a new passion for volunteering and activism. Lisa, a Moms Demand Action volunteer, said she found the local chapter after the Parkland shootings, when she was “feeling particularly frustrated with our gun culture here in America.” Davayna, who brought her two children, ages 5 and 8, to the event, noted that “it’s important to develop a sense of family within the community, and to be there for the victims and survivors: My kids don’t know remember Hadiya’s story but I want them to understand it’s important to be supportive and care for their neighbors.”

Noemi Martinez, a Chicago Survivors crisis responder, explained that gun violence has always been an issue, but the resources to deal with the aftermath haven’t always been available. “When my son was murdered 14 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, there were no organizations out here helping anybody or providing any kind of support. I had to survive through family and friends — I learned how to live with it and carry it, and grieving is not easy.”

I’m living proof that it does get easy, but it’s a process. I’m here to support other families who have lost loved ones. Events like this are so good for emotional support and building new relationships,” Martinez added.

“After I lost my brother to gun violence, it was important to me that I stay active in the community and take action in his name,” said Isabel, a resident of Little Village who also attended the event. “I want to do everything I can to support and encourage the new wave of young activists. They’re fired up and need to be reminded that their voices can have a big impact on the future of senseless gun tragedies in America.”

This is a story about the Community Safety and Peace strategy of the Partnership for Safe and Peaceful Communities.