South Park to host ‘Wear Orange’ rally Saturday in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day

This Saturday, Lawrence will go orange.

That’s meant figuratively, of course. In reality, you’ll probably see bunches of people sporting orange clothes around downtown Saturday, which marks the annual observance of National Gun Violence Awareness Day. According to the national Wear Orange campaign, millions of people across the country are expected to take part in marches, rallies and barbecues throughout the weekend, all while wearing orange, of course.

Lawrence’s event, organized by the Kansas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon at South Park. The rally is one of hundreds of similar events slated for this weekend nationwide in honor of victims and survivors of gun violence.

Kristi Kouloukis, a volunteer with the Lawrence chapter of Moms Demand Action, said the Wear Orange movement was initially inspired by Hadiya Pendleton, a Chicago teen who was shot and killed just one week after performing at President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade, in 2013. After her death, Pendleton’s friends encouraged others to wear orange — and speak out — in efforts to raise awareness about gun violence. Since then, the color has become the defining symbol of the gun violence prevention movement.

“Orange is the color of safety, orange is what hunters wear when they’re out in the woods hunting, and it was also the favorite color of Hadiya,” Koulokis said. “It is also to bring awareness to the amount of gun violence that our nation is experiencing.”

Gun-related deaths increased for the second straight year in 2016, largely due to surges in gun violence in big cities like Chicago, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The research also found there were more than 38,000 firearm-related deaths in the U.S. in 2016, an increase of 4,000 from the previous year.

Kouloukis said Saturday’s rally would be “nonpartisan,” focusing on honoring lives lost to gun violence rather than on “anti-gun” activism, she stressed. While Moms Demand Action is largely based around common-sense gun control advocacy, Kouloukis said the Wear Orange movement is nonpolitical.

During Saturday’s event, community members will be encouraged to tie orange ribbons around trees in a show of solidarity. As in cities across the country, a handful of Lawrence landmarks will “turn orange” Saturday in honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, including the Douglas County Courthouse and the Watkins Museum of History.

Saturday’s lineup of speakers includes Lawrence Mayor Stuart Boley, Kansas Rep. Boog Highberger, D-Lawrence; Kansas Rep. Eileen Horn, D-Lawrence; and Lawrence resident Melissa Monroe, a survivor of the 1992 shooting at Massachusetts’ Bard College. A few local high school students are also expected to speak, Kouloukis said.

The rally will also feature music, kids’ activities and information for those interested in getting involved with the larger movement. Guests are encouraged to RSVP online at act.everytown.org/event/wear-orange-2018.

Moms Demand Action is also partnering with local organizations, such as the Willow Domestic Violence Center and the Kansas League of Women Voters, in recognizing Wear Orange Weekend locally.

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