Smells of barbecue and sounds of pop music filled the air at Mt. Zion First African Baptist Church in Charlottesville on Friday afternoon, but the festive gathering was for a more somber cause.
Three local Charlottesville gun violence prevention groups came together to host the event in recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The B.U.C.K. Squad, Moms Demand Action Virginia and the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention joined together to host the free event.
“Outside of the mass shootings, [gun violence] is what the Black community endures everyday. Everyday gun violence is not in the media as much, but we understand that it happens. And we also understand that [mass shootings and everyday gun violence] are related to each other,” said Bryan Page, assistant director of the B.U.C.K. Squad.
The B.U.C.K. Squad is a Charlottesville-based 501©3 non-profit organization whose mission is to reduce gun violence in the community through violence interruption. The group trains regular citizens in de-escalation methods and gun violence prevention to equip them to intervene in tense situations.
“Our whole thing is based on relationships. We were once a product of this environment, and the younger guys respect us. We try to stop violence before it starts, someone might not listen to a cop, but they’ll listen to a regular person trying to calm them down,” Page said.
The events included free food and crafts for kids, who were also encouraged to design gun violence prevention posters. In addition, Wear Orange Weekend is June 3-5. This weekend is acknowledged by supporters wearing orange to recognize this day in connection with the #WearOrange movement.
Wear Orange Day began in 2013 after 15 year old Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on a playground in Chicago. After her death, her friends and family wore orange to honor her memory. Every year since then, to coincide with Hadiya’s birthday on June 2, violence prevention advocates wear orange to continue efforts to end gun violence nationwide.
“Gun violence ravages too many families and neighborhoods, especially in our cities, and disproportionately affects communities of color,” Katie Fox, a local leader with Moms Demand Action, a gun violence prevention organization. She said Moms Demand Action wanted to partner with the B.U.C.K. Squad in order to recognize and address this disparity.
Vice-Mayor Juandiego Wade attended the event, clad in orange from head to toe – shirt, pants and shoes. He said he came to the event in part to hear the community’s ideas for what City Council could do to prevent gun violence. One suggestion he heard was adding gun violence prevention to the city’s list when sending priorities to state legislators.
“As the government, we can’t do it alone. It takes to the citizens too because they have a much better pulse on what’s going on in the community, they can give us direction on what to do,” Wade said.
At the event, Mayor Lloyd Snook read a proclamation recognizing Gun Violence Awareness Month in Charlottesville. He said while local governments can’t make widespread gun laws, he feels the City Council needs to work on addressing underlying issues that can lead to gun violence.
“If we can do something about the underlying conditions of poverty, the tensions in the neighborhood, that’s where we can make a difference,” Snook said.
He said he’d like for the city to continue to provide funding to support programming by groups like the B.U.C.K Squad.