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'Party For Peace' Honors Hadiya Pendleton On Slain Teen's Birthday

By Alex Nitkin | June 2, 2016 1:35pm | Updated on June 2, 2016 8:53pm

HYDE PARK — On what would have been Hadiya Pendleton's 19th birthday, friends and activists are on their way to turning her legacy into a national movement.

Hundreds of people came to Harold Washington Playlot Park, almost all matching in bright orange T-shirts, for the group Wear Orange's "Party for Peace" on Thursday. The event was the second annual observance of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, marked in honor of Hadiya's birthday.

Members chose the color "because that’s what hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others," according to Wear Orange's website.

Hadiya's friends and family founded the group after the King College Prep teen's 2013 death, and since then it's helped stitch together anti-violence and pro-gun control advocates from around the city. Groups like Chicago Survivors, Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence were all represented, with members advertising their respective groups on their custom orange tees.

Others, like Bouchelle Stokes, wore shirts with printed photos of loved ones they'd lost in shootings. The smiling portrait of Stokes' son Malcolm Stuckey, killed in 2014 at the age of 19, was displayed on her back.

Under a huge outdoor tent, Stokes hugged and laughed with four or five other women, all wearing large orange "Survivor" buttons on their chests. Together they formed a group called "The Sisterhood," bringing together women whose children had been gunned down.

"When something so horrible happens, you're just searching for someone who can understand what you're going through," Stokes said. "And so we all just formed this bond, and we started looking for ways to find purpose in our pain."

By joining with other anti-violence groups, Stokes said, the mothers could help coalesce a real political force.

"With the kind of money and power the NRA has, we need all the forces we can to come together and stand up against them," Stokes said. "We just don't want any more families to have to deal wth the same kind of pain that we did. That's the goal."

The Wear Orange campaign is taking root across the country. Last week, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin sponsored a resolution in Congress to make National Gun Violence Awareness Day an official observance every June 2. And on Wednesday night, the Empire State Building turned orange in honor of Wear Orange.

For Marie Newman, a member of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the issue deserves the attention of anyone with a conscience, regardless of where they live.

"We need to raise awareness, and we need to elevate this conversation, because the number of people we're losing every day is an outrage," said Newman, who came to the event from suburban La Grange. "As long as it's still happening, we're all culpable. And we're all responsible for channeling all this energy into putting a stop to it."

Thursday's event was hosted by Chicago poet and activist Malcolm London, who introduced speakers and musical performances throughout the afternoon.

Hadiya was killed on Jan. 29, 2013, when she was shot while taking shelter from the rain with friends at Vivian Gordon Harsh Park in the 4500 block of South Oakenwald Avenue. Two men, Kenneth Williams and Micheail Ward, killed the teen as they were looking for rival gang members to shoot, prosecutors said.

Hadiya, an honor student, was shot in her back, and two others were wounded.

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