Who Started National Gun Violence Awareness Day Is A Heartbreaking Story

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Saturday marks the fourth annual National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The national event started locally, when a 15-year-old Chicago honor student was gunned down, just a week after performing for Barack Obama's second inauguration with her school's marching band. The friends of that honor student started National Gun Violence Awareness Day were friends of the honor student's all too familiar with gun violence — just as Parkland students are today.

The first National Gun Violence Awareness Day took place in 2015; but before that, the friends of Hadiya Pendleton, who was killed in 2013, began to take action to fight gun violence. They started Project Orange Tree, and asked that gun control advocates wear orange to honor their Pendleton's death. Orange is the color that hunters use to make themselves visible to other hunters, thus protecting themselves from being shot.

Pendleton's friends first held a youth panel to discuss her death, and eventually started this organization. "After we lost Hadiya, there were a lot of emotions going on," Nza-Ari Khepra, a founding member and president of the organization, told CNN. "The conversation motivated students and community members to get involved."

But that was just in the community where Pendleton lived. Everytown for Gun Safety, the prominent gun control advocacy group, eventually learned about Project Orange Tree and helped to turn the event into a national day of recognition. At the time, organizers were hoping those efforts that started in one Chicago school could affect the gun control movement nationally.

"There are so many people that I believe will want to be part of this movement," Khepra told CNN in 2015. "They just need to know about it."

Now they do. In addition to the original Project Orange Tree organizers and Everytown for Gun Safety, many more national organizations participate in National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Among them are the National Urban League, Planned Parenthood, Women’s March, Organizing for America, and American Federation of Teachers. The full list of supporters includes private brands, media partners, buildings and landmarks, and cities around the country.

In 2018, activists are once again asked to wear orange to mark the day. "Every year, Everytown and our partner organizations across the country wear orange: both to honor those who have lost their lives and loved ones, and to demand a future free from gun violence. Join our movement — Wear Orange this year," the organization's website reads.

Those who are interested are asked to register on the site and also upload pictures to social media with the #wearorange hashtag. There's also a list of events around the country that you can attend, from picnics to rallies and parades.

In years past, many celebrities have also taken part, as has Pendleton's family. In 2017, Pendleton's parents, Nathaniel and Cleo Pendleton, said that they appreciate knowing they are not alone in their grief.

"We draw so much strength from seeing the way this movement is growing, and like so many other families, we will keep working every day to create the safer future our children deserve," the Pendletons said in a statement.

This year, the Chicago event will take place in Hadiya Pendleton Park, a park on Chicago's South Side that was named after the honor student. The description of the event, which takes place Saturday at 10 a.m. local time, is indicative of what you'll find across the country.

"Join us for speakers, entertainment, food, games, crafts and more as we provide survivors and supporters of the GVP movement with an event to unwind and have fun, while commemorating those whose lives have been cut short by gun violence," the event invite reads.

Activists across the country are invited to join in similar acts of recognition. Pendleton's friends and family, and all those affected by gun violence, will be thankful for it.