City leaders and community advocates gathered at O’Donnell Park on May 31 to raise awareness about gun viоIеncе, in recognition of Wear Orange Day and National Gun ViоIеncе Awareness Day on June 1.

More than 100,000 men, women, and children are shоt every year across the nation, with gun viоIеncе devastating families in Wisconsin and tеrrоrizing disadvantaged Milwaukee neighborhoods.

The annual Wear Orange Weekend, June 1 to 3, is a national campaign to end gun viоIеncе. The Calling, the orange sunburst-shaped sculpture at O’Donnell Park, was the background for the kick-off rally, attended by dozens of supporters dressed in orange.

“At a time when our children are asking, ‘Am I next?’ it has never been more important for us to come together to demand real solutions,” said Jeri Bonavia, executive director of WAVE Educational Fund. “Our rally will be one of many from around the state and country during Wear Orange weekend, where caring citizens are joining together to send an urgent and powerful message: We can, and we will end gun viоIеncе.”

Buildings and signs across the country turned orange after sundown. Places around Milwaukee included Miller Park, the Mitchell Park Domes, and the Sports Science Center for the Milwaukee Bucks helped turn the night sky orange.

Tatiana Washington, from Rufus King International High School, was one of the students who organized the 50 Miles More March. It started as a protest aimed at Speaker Paul Ryan, who has consistently blocked legislation against sensible gun reform. It has since spread to other cities. Washington shared three take aways from her experience of marching 50 miles.

1. There is power in numbers. There is no way I would have been able to walk 50 miles without all the support. We have to work together, and we have to be united. This goes beyond party lines, race, and sexuality because all our lives are at risk.

2. Someone’s opinion of you does not have to become your reality. Most of the backlash we received was because of our age, but for me personally it was also because my race. I am proud to be a black girl, born and raise in Milwaukee, a city with one of the highest rates of vіctіmization.

3. Marching 50 miles hurts, a lot. I had no idea how much pain I would be in after simply walking, but also emotionally. After each mile we read a name of someone who dіеd from gun viоIеncе. That was when it hit me, that a lot of our aching was for the voiceless.

How many more miles will it take, and how many more blisters must we endure? And how many more lives will be stolen from us before there is a change?

Other speakers included Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele; Reggie Moore, Director of the City of Milwaukee Office of ViоIеncе Prevention; Alex Lasry, Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President; Kelly Ward, organizer of End Gun ViоIеncе Waukesha; and Jeri Bonavia, Executive Director of WAVE Educational Fund. Alemitu Caldart, Selame Caldart, and Hiwot Schultz also gave an original spoken word performance of “Enough,” written to reflect their fear and frustration with mass school shооtings.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a key organization that stands for ending gun viоIеncе, 96 Americans are kіІІed every day by gun viоIеncе.

The National Gun ViоIеncе Awareness Day began in 2015 and is held each June 2, the birth date of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago high school student who was kіІІed by gunfire. Jaime’s favorite color was orange. Her dance studio friends who loved her very much decided to honor her memory by wearing orange ribbons, which evolved into the annual campaign against gun viоIеncе.

In the morning before the rally was scheduled Khary Penebaker, a member of the Everytown Survivors Network, had an Orange Ribbon tattoo made on his chest. He did so to honor Fred Guttenberg, who lost his daughter Jaime in the Parkland mass shооting. Penebaker said that he did not have the privilege to meet Jaime, but had met Fred and added the tattoo in support of his friend.

My name is Khary Penebaker, and I am here as my mother‘s voice. She wrote a note, got in her car, drove on the freeway and pulled over. She sat in that car by herself with nothing but a gun and depression lying to her, making her believe that my world would be better off without her.

Thirty-eight birthdays, Thirty-eight Thanksgivings, Thirty-eight Christmases, my mom Joyce has missed. She was severely mentally unwell. Instead of having easy access to mental health care, she had easy access to guns.

In the month of June it would have been her 66 birthday. She missed the birth of my three children. She missed the wedding to my beautiful wife. She missed all of our doctor appointments. She missed every single mistake I’ve made ever made, and she missed every success I’ve ever achieved.

For the majority of my life, I didn’t know who to talk to. If I did, I wasn’t sure that they even listen. But I was fortunate to find the WAVE Educational Fund, and find Moms Demand Action.

And I have met with many parents who lost their children in school shооtings. They told me that we can’t bring back who we have lost, but we now have each other. Or that there is not gun viоIеncе hierarchy for pain, so we have to share our voice to help empower others. It a begins in peoples kitchens and at public rallies like March for Our Lives

I had the chance to meet one of my heroes sparkly who filmed a PSA commercial and I was kicking out and wanted to tell him how much I loved his movies like to do the right thing and then I realize the only reason I’m here is because my mom is dead I can’t go back and read that car window and tell my mom to stop to wait to fight to struggle just for that next moment and then struggle for the next and find out one day what her son will become

I don’t get the chance to stop my mother from taking her life, but what I can do now is the absolutely everything in my power to help save as many lives as I possibly can. If you are struggling, it is okay not to be okay. Your life is worth fighting for, so hang on.

I am committed to ending gun viоIеncе. I wear orange for Joyce Penebaker, Jaime Guttenberg, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Dontre Hamilton, and I wear orange for every single name that none of you people know, for those tears that will never drive. I beg you to do something so you never have to walk in my shoes.

The Wisconsin Anti-ViоIеncе Effort Educational Fund is the state’s largest grassroots advocacy organization focused on saving lives by strengthening local gun laws.

© Photo

Lee Matz