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Evanston residents gathered at Fountain Square on June 2 to call for an end to gun violence. With them were survivors – including family members and friends left behind after a fatal shooting, speakers advocating for change, singers leading the crowd in traditional American songs, and dancers performing hip hop dance.
This is the second year there has been a Wear Orange Weekend in Evanston, is the fourth year it has been celebrated in Chicago, and is now a national day of commemoration. It was first organized in 2014 by friends of Hadiya Pendleton, who was shot and killed in Chicago in 2013, when she was 15.
The week before her death, she marched in President Barack Obama’s second inaugural parade. Since then, Wear Orange Weekend has become a vehicle for raising awareness of gun violence and engaging people across the country in working to end gun violence.
The June 2 rally was organized by three local groups, including Dear Evanston, which uses storytelling to look at issues of race, equity, inclusion and youth gun violence; the Evanston chapter of the national organization Moms Demand Action, which works for gun reform; and People for a Safer Society, a Skokie-based organization that raises awareness of gun violence.
A number of people in the crowd, approached by the RoundTable, shared how gun violence has affected their own lives and offered their perspectives on Evanston gun violence and efforts to stop it.
Sherry Gregory, who works for Thompson Funeral Home and Evanston Funeral and Cremation Services, said, “I see a lot . . . I’ve buried a lot of kids that I’ve known . . . No kid should have to be afraid to go anywhere.” Ms. Gregory said she was grateful for local efforts, including the Evanston Police Explorer program.
“I was an Evanston Youth Police Explorer back in the ’80s, and I’m glad they are doing the program again . . . Kids need to feel safe. They should be able to do what kids do and not worry about being shot . . . Kids today don’t have the support we had when we were growing up.”
Ms. Gregory said rallies, like the one on June 2, should happen more often, but she was surprised that more kids were not at the rally. She also said that kids should be involved in every event of this type and that there should be focus groups with kids from the community, so that their perspectives are better understood.
Associate Minister Sherry Walker of Bethany Baptist Church of Christ in Evanston said, “It seems like we get all pumped up every time that something happens, but we need to be doing things like this [the rally] on a consistent basis. Gun violence has soared.”
Ms. Walker’s son Ronald Raymond Walker II was murdered at age 15 in 1996. She said that when that happened she became determined to speak out on gun violence and that she realized she could help other mothers because of her experience. “I love these young people, and I want them to live and have life,” said Ms. Walker. But, she said, “they don’t know what to do but be drawn to the streets, because they can do things which are very lucrative for them. But, the first time that they’re locked up, no one [who drew them into crime] is going to come visit them.”
Ms. Walker said she had been involved in Cook County programs for youth that would expose them to people whose lives had been impacted by gun violence and that they helped. “Young people need to understand the value of life . . . to get there you have to start with them. A lot of them have low self-esteem, have felt rejected and unloved,” she said. “I worked with boys that would have tears in their eyes. They just wanted someone to love them, to hug them.”
Speakers at the event included Traci Kurtzer, Moms Demand Action, Evanston chapter; Denyse Stoneback, Founder, People for a Safer Society; Chantal Pryor, sister of Kaylyn Pryor who was shot and killed in 2015; Emma Stein, ETHS student who organized the high school’s student walkout following the Parkland shooting; Carolyn Murray, mother of Justin Murray who was shot and killed in 2012; Dujon Smith, who read the names of Evanston residents who lost their lives to gun violence over the past 20 years; Phoebe Liccardo, ETHS student, organizer of the student walkout after Parkland; Mollie Hartenstein, ETHS student, organizer of the student walkout following Parkland; Nina Kavin, co-founder, Dear Evanston; Nathan Norman, City of Evanston Youth and Young Adult assistant program coordinator and outreach worker supervisor; Mayor Stephen Hagerty; Police Chief Richard Eddington; and Corrie Wallace, who read “See Something, Say Something,” a poem written by her daughter, ETHS student Liana Wallace. Music and dance performers included members of the Evanston Own It Choir, Melinda Segal and the KCD dancers, Deejay Charles Protégé and Dujon Smith.