As a parent, you want to be able to have conversations with your kids about important things so that they are not only aware of what is going on in the world around them, but also to prepare them for the world they will eventually enter into. My 17-year-old daughter and I had a conversation about an emotionally difficult topic -- gun violence. But we did so in the context of the #WearOrange movement.
While doing the #TalkToMe video, I explained how a group of teenagers were compelled to create a movement to honor their friend, Hadiya Pendleton, and to also make a declarative statement to the public that "there's a person here, don't shoot". Hunters wear orange so that other hunters in the woods can see them more clearly and to indicate that they aren't a target. Think about that for a second and weigh that thought process with the gravity with which this movement was born. Teenagers aren't supposed to be thinking of ways to announce the presence of a human life to avoid being shot, but we have a generation of young folks who have had to experience death and destruction as a result of this gun violence epidemic. It is heartbreaking that this is the kind of thing that some young teens are facing, but it is heartwarming at the same time in that they turned their grief into positive action in order to save lives.
Hadiya would've turned 19 today, June 2nd, 2016. Instead of celebrating her birthday, her parents and friends will be honoring her by wearing orange. Individuals like President Obama, Lucy McBath (Jordan Davis' mother), Erica Smegielski (daughter of Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, principal at Sandy Hook Elementary School), my daughter and I, as well as millions of others, will #WearOrange to celebrate Hadiya's life and to stand with the other faceless victims and survivors of gun violence.
To solve this problem of 33,000 deaths a year due to gun violence, we need to be able to see the faces of gun violence; we need to see the survivors who have to live every day with a never-ending nightmare. It will ultimately be the stories of those survivors who are able to broadcast a brighter light on this issue so it can be humanized. Too often we talk about this problem in the abstract using statistics. Those numbers don't bleed or hurt nor cry. It's families, like mine, who have endured a shooting that cry, bleed and hurt. We need to hear these stories and empathize with them so that we can be further inspired to prevent this epidemic from continuing.
I chose to tell my daughter about my mom, her grandmother, and how she (Joyce Penebaker) died by suicide with a gun when I was very young. I wanted my daughter to know what has motivated me to get active in the gun violence prevention movement and why it is so incredibly important for me to have done so. I can't go back to 1979 and save my mother's life, but I can work to prevent fewer families from enduring my nightmare. I can talk with my teenage daughter about why this issue is so important and how she, even at a relatively young age, can also make a difference and play a part in fighting gun violence, just as Hadiya's friends did.
I would much rather have talks with my daughter about more upbeat and fun things, like her college and career aspirations or something as simple as what her and her friends were going to do for fun during the coming weekend. I am fortunate to have an engaged kid who is blossoming into an amazing young woman, who has the level of passion and empathy that important issues like this require. It is a moral imperative that we have substantive discussions like this with our kids so that we can help them be the change agents of the future.
On Thursday June 2nd, I will proudly wear my bright and loud orange shirt and share the story of my mom. I will be part of a local #WearOrange event here in Milwaukee, and I will walk up to that microphone knowing that I have a voice and a story that needs to be shared. I will be wearing orange for my mother Joyce, Jordan Davis, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Angela Frankenberry, Peter Paugh, Ana Grace Márquez-Greene, for the other students and teachers from Sandy Hook Elementary, for Jessica Ghawi, for those at Aurora theater in Colorado, for those at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, WI, for Milwaukee, for Chicago and for the thousands and thousands of others who have been impacted by gun violence. I am speaking for those who have been lost and those who have survived.
I ask that you #WearOrange with us, but don't stop there. Help us send a message to the rest of the country and to our elected officials to say that we've had enough and that we will do whatever it takes to finally end gun violence. Get involved. Stand up and speak out. Lives depend on it.