My daughter Hadiya will have turned 24 on Wednesday, June 2, and I often wonder what a young woman my bright, bubbly, fiery baby will be. What would he have studied in college? Where would he have traveled? What would she be doing with her one beautiful life?
Eight years after he was shot and killed, I still yearn to hear his key at our front door. I still see him flopping on the couch and cracking jokes with his little brother. I yearn to hear her big, boisterous laugh bouncing off the kitchen walls, the sound of her chatting on the phone a minute at a time with friends or whispering secrets we shared as mother and daughter.
Hadiya was shot and killed at the age of 15 in a park south of Chicago while celebrating the end of her ordeal. On 29 January 2013, she was surrounded with her friends under a rain shelter when a man fled the park and shot indiscriminately into a crowd of children. Weeks earlier, Hadiya performed at the second presidential inauguration ceremony. Barack Obama.
My baby girl was on top of the world, and then in an instant she was gone. My whole world was blown up. Our family, friends and the entire community were devastated. My son, who was just 10 years old at the time of Hadiya’s murder, defines her life before and after the terrible day she died.
So, this time of year is always bitter for my family. A few days after Hadiya’s birthday, we will gather to honor the victims and survivors on June 4 for National Gun Violence Awareness Day, a day that was born out of gun violence prevention activism following her death. I stand in awe of the movement that Hadiya’s short, bright life helped spark. I can imagine the wide smile that would go on knowing that it was all a result of the energy she inspired in her friends and family. From the moment she was born, I knew my baby would change the world. But I wish it didn’t have to be this way.
Establishment of Hadiya’s friends Project Orange Tree In his memory, he called on youth to tackle gun violence and structural violence. I knew I would never forget Hadiya, but watching her friends make an effort to make sure the world never forgets Hadiya and to honor her legacy by working towards a day in which no more guns is not killed by, the flame of hope reigns in me.
Her friends chose orange because it’s bright and powerful and carries a simple message: Don’t shoot us. From there, our movement grew, and on what would have been Hadiya’s 18th birthday, we launched the Wear Orange campaign, which in turn inspired National Gun Violence Awareness Day.
on an average day, More than 100 Americans were shot dead and more than 230 were shot and wounded. The trauma of having our loved ones suffer gun violence goes far beyond the limits of our own hearts and those of our own families.
Our youth have grown up in neighborhoods where they often do not feel safe. Research shows there are black children and teens in the United States 14 times more likely would be shot to death than their white peers. And, every three hours, A young black man dies in a gunfight. And like Hadiya’s friends, many young black people are burying their classmates, neighbors or family members before they are old enough to get their driving licenses. This year, following a surge in gun violence during the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 40,000 people, there is a new urgency in our call for change.
The disproportionate impact of gun violence on black people and people of color reflects and exacerbates our country’s long-standing systemic and structural racism. Many gun violence survivors and their families lack adequate resources to recover physically, emotionally and financially after gun violence. There were moments after Hadiya’s death when I felt lonely and stunned, though I was picked up by other parents and gun violence survivors who understood my pain.
It is a collective sadness to know that even as I am living through the worst days of my life as a mother, there will be more families going through this pain. And, when the risk of violence begins so quickly, research have shown that it has a lasting effect on our children. That is why the pain caused by gun violence is greater than the sum of the heartbreak of every human being. As well as grief, there is a collective trauma in living with the weight of systemic racism, structural violence and intergenerational pain our black children face.
Our children deserve this country more than living in fear and trauma. They deserve to grow up, grow old and be all that they can be. My daughter Hadiya did not get that chance. She’ll be 15 forever – a fierce friend, a loyal sister, a loving daughter and my little girl. I love watching her grow up to see who she will become. Which I will not give even a day.
Instead, I will fight every day so that your family doesn’t know what my pain is. I will wear orange for Hadiya and all the other victims and survivors of gun violence. And I will be their voice, because another future is possible. We can make this country safe for all our children—and we must.
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