Under a drizzling rain, a crowd of orange-clad Tampa residents gathers in Curtis Hixon Park on the first Friday in June, united in an effort to demand an end to gun violence.
Across the country, similar events take place each year on the first weekend in June to mark National Gun Violence Awareness Day and Wear Orange Weekend- events that honor the memories of those killed by gun violence and call for action to curb gun violence. In the wake of the recent mass shootings at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, the event has an added sense of urgency this year.
Sally Wilson and her friends drove to downtown Tampa from Land O’ Lakes to participate. Orange t-shirts peek through their blue plastic rain ponchos, matching the colors of their University of Florida Gators ball caps. Wilson is 76 years old and a proud great-grandmother of three.
“This needs to stop,” she says. “Assault rifles have no purpose in the general public. I’ve been alive a long time and I have never had to defend myself with an assault rifle. Children aren’t safe; you can’t go to the grocery store. This needs to stop.”
Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, two organizations formed to fight for stronger gun protection laws, are the organizers of the event in Tampa.
Moms Demand Action advocates for measures such as expanded background checks for firearms sales and "red flag" laws that allow courts to seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others.
In Tampa, and across the country, community members who come out to support the cause wear orange, the color hunters wear in woods to protect themselves and others. At the Curtis Hixon event, Tampa Police Chief Mary O’Connor delivers a proclamation in recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Day to the Florida chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action on behalf of Mayor Jane Castor. Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, Tampa City Councilwoman Lynn Hurtak, Nicole Wass of Florida Moms Demand Action and several police officers join O’Connor during her comments.
“Guns have become the number one cause of death for American children,” Warren says to the crowd.
His words linger in the air as he pauses, the urgency palpable as the group stands within view of the Glazer Children’s Museum.
The event also acknowledges a diverse group of community partners for their efforts to bring positive change. One is Helping Thru the Hurt, a Tampa-based mentoring program that supports at-risk youth to reach their full potential.
In recent years, the organization has refined its focus to address undiagnosed and untreated trauma in children struggling to cope with gun violence. Helping thru the Hurt provides community support, case management, therapy and human services. In Christmas 2021 the organization planned a Christmas event in East Tampa to give hope to children affected by gun violence.
“These kids needed to get out and have something to be happy about,” founder Markitia Robinson says. “We planned for 50 children. We had 78.”
Robinson herself has lost three nephews to gun violence in less than two years. She and fellow leader Lisa Williams are seeking out community partners to collaborate with. Several other community members who have come out to support the cause have a similar goal.
Energized by the turn-out and comments, they gather with each other for nearly an hour, finding common ground in the desire to stop gun violence and exchanging information for collaboration. Several carry posters honoring loved ones lost, both adults and children. They share their stories with each other and then make their way through Curtis Hixon Park on a peace walk to observe the lights of the bridges and City Hall turn orange.
“This event is excellent,” Robinson says. “All of us from different areas and backgrounds with the chief of police sends a powerful message. Our concerns are valid and we need change. You don’t have to be one specific type of person with one specific background to be affected by gun violence. Gun violence touches everyone.”
For more information on the organizations in this story follow these links: Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, Helping Thru the Hurt.
Enjoy this story? Sign up
for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.