People are #wearingorange to honor the teenage victim of a fatal shooting

June 2 would have been Hadiya Pendleton’s 18th birthday. But the Chicago native’s life was cut short due to gun violence, two weeks after she performed at President Obama’s second inauguration. 

Now, friends, family and people all over social media are honoring Pendleton’s life with the first ever National Gun Violence Awareness Day, as well as a Wear Orange campaign and the #WearingOrange hashtag.

The original iteration of the movement was called Project Orange Tree. It was launched by friends from King College Prep High School in the wake of Pendleton’s 2013 shooting death in a Chicago park. During the first week of April 2013, Pendleton’s friends all wore orange to honor her memory. Orange is the color worn by hunters to make sure they’re visible in the wilderness.

Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers support wearingorange.org & keeping kids safe #wearingorange

A photo posted by Newtown Action Alliance (@newtownactionalliance) on

Following Project Orange Tree, Pendleton’s friends received photos of people wearing orange from all over the country. People also wore orange and posted selfies on social media to commemorate Pendleton’s memory and take a stand against gun violence.

“It was one of the most inspiring and unexpected things that has ever hapened to me,” Nza-Ari Khepra, a close friend of Hadiya’s and one of the original creators of the #WearingOrange movement, told the Daily Dot via phone.

#wearingorange

A photo posted by reginagrossman (@reginagrossman) on

The people in Pendleton’s community wore orange again last year to honor her memory. This year, Khepra was approached by Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization devoted to ending gun violence, to take the movement nationwide. 

Everytown asked if Khepra could organize a block party in two weeks so it would fall on Hadiya’s birthday, which is now officially National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Held at Harold Washington Park in Chicago, the “party for peace” will feature a speech by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, as well as a performance from James Davis.

Many other prominent figures and organizations have signed on to join the Wear Orange campaign. Reverend Al Sharpton, Sarah Silverman, Tony Hawk, and the writers of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black have all made the Wear Orange pledge.

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We are #wearingorange in support of National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Get involved: wearorange.org

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Before Pendleton passed away, Khepra says she and her friends were “in a bubble” when it came to gun safety. 

“We didn’t expect something like this to come and affect us,” she said. “We thought it only affected people who chose that type of lifestyle.” 

But once Khepra realized that gun violence impacted anyone and everyone, she says she realized she had to take action. “No one should have to lose their loved ones because of reckless gun violence.”

According to the Wear Orange campaign, every day approximately 88 Americans are killed by gun violence. In Chicago alone, there were 2,500 shootings last year. 

“I think you could walk up to anyone who lives in the south and west side [of Chicago] or anywhere where there’s economic disparity, and ask if they’ve been directly affected by gun violence, they’d say yes,” Khepra said.

today is already one of the best days of my life…and it isn’t yet noon in Chicago #chicagopride #wearingorange

A photo posted by jason rzepka (@jasonrzepka) on

But the ultimate goal for the participants of Wear Orange is to raise awareness of the omnipresent scourge of gun violence.

“The orange lets everyone know ‘I’m here. I’m standing out…when the sun hits it, it gets brighter,” Hadiya’s father, Nate, said in the campaign video.

Her mother Cleo added, “I think it could save lives.”

Screengrab via Everytown for Gun Safety/YouTube

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas

Marisa Kabas is a lifestyle reporter and activist. Her work has been published by Fusion, Fast Company, and Today. She’s also served as an editorial campaigns director for Purpose PBC, a social movement incubator.