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My name is Carthesa Dillard — I am a lover of my God, a wife, a mother and a sister, among so many other things that I hold dear to my heart. I also bear the harrowing title of two-time survivor of gun violence.

In August of 2014, my 18-year-old funny, prankster, always laughing and beautifully made baby brother, Jamond, was shot and killed by a friend playing with an unsecured gun. He was just shy of a week from leaving for college. I thought I could never experience this type of excruciating pain again, but just a little over two years later, I did.

On May 25, 2017, my beautiful, shy, sweet and loving oldest son, Christopher Jr., was taken from us. He was shot and killed in traffic by an enraged driver just two weeks after his 19th birthday. Four minutes before his life was tragically taken, my last words to him were “see you soon.” I never thought in a million years that it would not be true.

My son was the epitome of giving. Four months prior to his death, Chris made the decision to become an organ donor. He saved the lives of seven strangers.

Friday, June 4 was National Gun Violence Awareness Day, followed by the seventh annual Wear Orange weekend, when survivors, activists, supporters and everyday people come together from every corner of the country to demand a future free from gun violence. Orange symbolizes the value of each person’s life, and we wear it to honor those taken and wounded by gun violence — and to call for an end to this crisis.

I wear orange because we owe it to the ones that have and will continue to die due to gun violence to be the change. We owe it to the voices silenced by gun violence to take action and stop the pain that I and so many have carried for far too long.

Real action on gun violence cannot wait for tomorrow, because it happens every day. We are living in a country where more than 100 people are shot and killed each day, and more than 200 are shot and wounded. Gun violence didn’t stop because of COVID-19 — in fact, it worsened. In 2020, the number of people killed by gun violence will likely exceed 40,000, a rate of 12.3 gun deaths per 100,000 people. This translates to the highest rate of gun deaths in two decades.

Gun violence is a crisis in our nation, and here in Missouri, but we can work to prevent it.

I will never get to see my brother and son graduate from college or get married. I will never have that first dance that is shared between a mother and her son at his wedding. I have cried so many nights wondering how this could have happened to us twice. My family and I will never be the same and will live in grief forever by these senseless acts of gun violence. But I know we are not the only ones.

I wear orange because I want to be a part of something that brings real change to the world. I owe it to my brother and son to continue their legacy. But we must do the work.

Everyone has to be involved in the fight to end gun violence so that we can live in a world that is safe, and most importantly, so that no human has to explain to their children that their sibling or loved one will not be coming home again. 

Rates of gun violence have increased, but so has the movement to stop it. We must continue to educate, organize, advocate and rally for safer communities. 

And make no mistake about it, we will win.


Carthesa Dillard is a volunteer with the Missouri chapter of Moms Demand Action, an Everytown for Gun Safety Survivor Fellow, and a two-time survivor whose brother and son were taken by gun violence.