Hadiya Pendleton's Family on Why We Must Stand Up Against Gun Violence

Chicago, Illinois -People wear orange for National Gun Violence Awareness day at Harold Washington Playlot Park in Chicago on Saturday, June 3, 2017.Photo by Alyssa Schukar for EveryTown for Gun Safety
Everytown for Gun Safety
Everytown for Gun Safety

When we saw the headlines about a shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, TX, our hearts sank. And then the news kept updating – 19 young children and two adults had been murdered in a classroom by a person with a gun whose only goal was to take lives. Children as young as 9 were killed in a place where they were supposed to be safe. Our hearts are still breaking for the parents and loved ones of those whose lives were ripped away from them in this senseless act of gun violence.

We know intimately the pain that the families in Uvalde feel. We know their heartbreak, their grief, their rage, and their anger – because we've lived through it, too.

Hadiya was a creative person, full of life, who sparkled in every room. She loved crab legs and listening to Coldplay. A dedicated majorette, she was disciplined when it came to memorizing choreography but was truly terrible at dancing off the cuff. When she'd get sent to her room, we knew she was secretly glad to be there so she could read the Twilight series. She had wisdom beyond her years and her whole life ahead of her.

In January 2013, Hadiya performed as a majorette at the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. Shortly after, on January 29th, she was celebrating the end of exams with her friends at a park on the south side of Chicago. There were clear blue skies that day, and it was unseasonably warm. In a matter of moments, a shooter began running through the park and shooting indiscriminately — and Hadiya was struck. We rushed to the hospital and waited, but before long, our worst fears had come true. Hadiya had passed. She was just 15 years old.

To say that Hadiya's death was extremely unexpected would be an understatement. On cloud nine one second — killed by a gun the next. The grief was devastating and all-consuming for our family and friends, for Hadiya's teachers and neighbors. To this day, there are moments when her death still feels inconceivable. But her legacy lives on.

Our family has remained in the national spotlight, tirelessly advocating for measures that would reduce gun violence in this country. And in June 2015, on what would have been Hadiya's 18th birthday, we launched the first National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange weekend alongside a broad-based coalition of Hadiya's friends and supporters.

Wear Orange is dedicated to honoring the lives of all people in the US affected by gun violence. We are proud to represent what we know is a nation of gun-violence survivors — including those with stories that aren't in the headlines. The majority of shootings never make national news, but they shatter the hearts of families and reverberate in communities for years to come.

From a national perspective, 2021 was one of the deadliest years on record, with more than 20,900 people killed in gun homicides and non-suicide-related shootings — a six percent increase over 2020. Every day, more than 110 people are shot and killed in America, and hundreds more are shot and wounded. Firearms are now the leading cause of death among children and teens in America – teens like Hadiya and children like those at Robb Elementary.

We know firsthand – as do the parents in Uvalde – the pain of never again seeing a loved one. It's a vacant seat on the couch. It's a jacket hanging in the closet that you just can't throw away. It's empty cubbies at an elementary school in Texas; it's flowers on the ground outside a supermarket in Buffalo, NY. It's countless neighborhoods — forever changed.

Enough is enough. We should not have to live in constant fear of gunfire. We deserve more. That's why, this National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange weekend, we will stand together with advocates from across the country to demand a future free from gun violence once and for all.

Wear Orange is now a nationwide campaign where, over the course of this weekend, thousands of community partners, volunteers, and advocates will hold events that honor survivors and demand an end to gun violence in America. Hundreds of influencers, businesses, corporate brands, sports teams, nonprofits, musicians, and elected officials will participate. And you have a role to play. This work has never been more important, and the time for action is now.

We all have a moral responsibility to address senseless gun violence in the United States, and our lawmakers must prioritize lifesaving gun-safety measures. This year, we will raise our voices during Wear Orange weekend to call on Congress to do its job and take action to save lives. Text BOLD to 64433 to tell your senator to take action on gun safety. Don't wait until gun violence affects your family to add your voice to this important movement.