Wear Orange Day

How Can Your Actions Help Raise Gun Violence Awareness?

When enough people are inspired to join together, small individual actions can create significant momentum for change. How does this happen?

  • In 2013, Chicago teenager Hadiya Pendleton was fatally shot. Her violent death started a movement that has prompted an entire nation to wear the color orange every June and host activities and events to end gun violence.
  • In 2017, the day after the Las Vegas massacre, a Portland, Oregon artist was shocked into looking at gun violence statistics. To empower all of us to action, she started a simple, visually arresting representation of individual gunfire victims – a nationwide art project that anyone can join.
Soul Box Project Partners with Wear Orange Day 2024

Concerned people like you – in Chicago, Portland, and across the nation – continue to ask “What can be done to end gun violence?” When enough people are inspired to join together, individual actions can create significant momentum for change.

How does this happen?—with your participation in events and activities organized every June for Wear Orange and Gun Violence Awareness Month. It’s as simple or involved as you want it to be.

Who Was Hadiya Pendleton?

Soulbox Project Hadiya Pendleton BoxFifteen-year-old Hadiya Pendleton was one of 42 people in Chicago killed by gunfire in just the first month of 2013. And yet, it was Hadiya’s funeral that attracted more than a thousand people when her death brought new attention to urban gun violence. Among those in the front pews was Michelle Obama. A petition on the White House website had asked President Obama to attend the funeral. Instead the first lady, who grew up on Chicago’s south side, attended and privately met with friends and family.

NPR reported that “Outside the church, 15-year-old Shalayah Sledge said it was better that the first lady showed up for the funeral and not the president. ‘I think if he would have come [it] would have been more about politics and less about Hadiya,’ she said.”

Damon Stewart, Hadiya’s godfather, urged people not to politicize her death. “She is a representative not just of the people in Chicago, she is a representative of people across this nation who have lost their lives,” he told the

Hadiya Pendleton Dance Team

Hadiya was well known as a bright and energetic honors student, serious about excelling in academics, but described lovingly by her brother as “goofy.” She had proudly performed at President Obama’s 2013 inaugural festivities in Washington, D.C., with her King College Prep high school majorette team. She came home from the nation’s capitol talking of becoming a journalist or getting into politics.

Then, just days later, after completing final exams on January 29, Hadiya and her friends were sheltering from the rain at south side Harsh Park when members of a gang took them for rivals and opened fire, fatally shooting Hadiya.

Michelle Obama did not speak at Hadiya’s funeral, but the following April, in a speech to Chicago business leaders about combating youth violence, she began sharing Hadiya’s story, which she has since recounted often. She is famously quoted as saying,

Hadiya Pendleton was me, and I was her. But I got to grow up and … have a career and family and the most blessed life I could ever imagine. And Hadiya? [She]… got shot in the back because some kid thought she was in a gang. Hadiya’s family did everything right, but she still didn’t have a chance.

Hadiya’s parents, Nathanial Pendleton and Cleopatra Cowly, attended President Obama’s State of the Union address later that year to support his plea for gun control.

Six years later, in 2019, the gunman, who was 18 at the time of the shooting, was sentenced to 84 years in prison. In 2021 the driver of the get-away car was sentenced to 42 years.

How Did Wear Orange Start?

The wheels of justice turn slowly, but a grass-roots call for gun violence awareness wasted no time. A group of Hadiya’s high school friends honored her and organized action against structural violence by forming a group they named Project Orange Tree. Wearing orange was a small act with a big message: Don’t Shoot Me!—or anyone else.

Rapper Lupe Fiasco's Foundation supported a social media campaign urging people to wear orange on April 1, 2013.The project’s past president Nza-Ari Khepra explained,

We initially came together to share our feelings about losing someone that was really close to us, and that first event ended up being something totally beyond our imagination. The question then was ‘What’s the next step?’ We brainstormed. Someone said we should use orange because that’s the color hunters wear to alert other hunters they’re not the targets. And someone else came up with the idea of a tree, which equals growth and protection and life. We asked people to wear orange to show they don’t want to be the next victim and also support those who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

When Chicago rapper Lupe Fiasco learned of the project, his Foundation supported a social media campaign urging people to wear orange on April 1, 2013.

Fiasco helped the youth group organize local events for two years, gaining the attention of Everytown for Gun Safety’s cultural engagement director Jason Rzepka who proposed a Wear Orange campaign to solicit nationwide participation. “They were 100 percent the inspiration for this. I was absolutely captivated, fascinated and inspired by what these young people in Chicago started with Project Orange Tree,” said Rzepka.

According to Newsweek Magazine, the campaign was picked up by Amnesty International, followed by other organizations including Giffords PAC and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

A decade later, the first Friday in June is now widely observed as National Wear Orange Day with activities throughout the following weekend. June is now recognized in the U.S. as National Gun Violence Awareness Month.

How to Participate in Wear Orange

THIS LOSS nationwide Graphic
Wear Orange Collaboration with SoulBox Project

Wearing Orange is an Act of ARTivism.
So is Making Soul Box Memorials.

Soul Box backpack at a Wear Orange event
There are many stories of individuals or small groups starting movements or enterprises that capture the attention of entire nations. According to Everytown’s Gun Safety Action Fund and Gun Safety Support Fund there were more than 350 #WearOrange events scheduled in cities across the country in 2022. Organizing a Soul Box Project box making event can enhance and help draw additional attention to your Wear Orange activities.
This Loss We Carry in Washington DC
The idea of The Soul Box Project was almost as simple as asking people to wear orange. Hundreds of volunteers folded and embellished more than 200,000 Soul Boxes which were displayed on the National Mall in October of 2021. The exhibit, titled This Loss We Carry, garnered a media reach of 500 million, including extensive coverage by the Washington Post, the news app NowThis, and Soledad O’Brien’s Matter of Fact
Moms Demand Action Rally, Lexington, KY
In 2023, sections of the D.C. exhibit were distributed at no cost to Soul Box Project Branches—any individual, group or organization—across the U.S. that will share this powerful visual to attract attention to the tragedy of gun violence and other gunfire deaths, injuries and suicides by gun.
The Soul Box Project exhibits include the names of hundreds of men, women and children killed or injured by gunfire in the U.S. Making a Soul Box for a family member or friend can bring solace to survivors. Knowing these Boxes can join thousands of others in displays across the nation helps develop solidarity and hope for a safer future.
Violins concert honoring victims of gun violence
Not every gun violence funeral can be attended by famous people, yet including a Soul Box display, in the company of many, many displays each June will work to draw the nation’s eyes and hearts to This Loss We Carry- NATIONWIDE