Community events to show support to end gun violence

Board of Education divided over Wear Orange resolution

By: K. Michelle Moran | Grosse Pointe Times | Published May 21, 2024

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GROSSE POINTES — Students and community members will be taking a public stand against gun violence in conjunction with Wear Orange Weekend June 7 to 9 and National Gun Violence Awareness Day, which takes place the first Friday in June — June 7 this year.

From 5 to 9 p.m. May 30, Otherworld & Mums Arcade on Mack Avenue in Grosse Pointe City will host Flowers & Fun, an all-orange event with free arcade games, snacks and beverages during which visitors can purchase orange flowers, orange tree ribbons and orange lights for Wear Orange Day.

At 6 p.m. June 6, Grosse Pointe North High School students have organized a gun violence awareness panel discussion that will be held at the Woods Branch of the Grosse Pointe Public Library in Grosse Pointe Woods. Participants will include a member of U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s staff and a professor from the University of Michigan Firearm Injury Prevention Department.

Before school starts, at 7:25 a.m. June 7, North students will conduct a Wear Orange sign-waving rally across the street from North on Vernier Road in Grosse Pointe Woods.

Community members are invited to take part in a silent vigil from 4 to 5 p.m. June 7 in front of Grosse Pointe Woods City Hall on Mack Avenue during which they can proclaim whom they’re wearing orange for or honoring.

This is an issue that hits close to home for many in the community. In February 2023, the Grosse Pointe Public School System lost two of its own to a mass shooting on the Michigan State University campus that claimed the lives of North graduate Arielle Anderson, 19, of Harper Woods, and Grosse Pointe South High School graduate Brian Fraser, 20, of Grosse Pointe Park.

Marissa Ford, a junior at North, was one of the students who started a chapter of Students Demand Action at North a few years ago because, as she told the Board of Education at a meeting May 6 at Brownell Middle School, “We were tired of the continuous instances of hearing about school shootings, so we wanted a way to take action.”

She asked the board to approve a resolution in support of Wear Orange Day, as it did last year.

“This year, if you choose to vote against Wear Orange, you are disrespecting the countless victims of gun violence, by choosing to avoid the subject and ignore the public health crisis that exists in our country,” Ford told the board. “Gun violence is the No. 1 cause of death for children and teens in America, and multiple times a year we all have to participate in lockdown drills because of the threats to our safety. Therefore, gun violence is clearly relevant to every single student and teacher in this school district, and officially acknowledging this one day a year is the least that this school district could do to acknowledge this crisis.”

A Wear Orange resolution was in front of the Grosse Pointe Board of Education May 6.

“I’m very impressed that we have local students participating in government this way,” Board member Valarie St. John said.

She said the resolution allowed administrators at each school building to mark the day in the way they felt best suited that school.

“There is no obligation on our staff for this,” St. John said.

Board member Colleen Worden also supported the resolution “100%,” she said.

“This is a really good way of bringing awareness to gun violence,” said Worden, who said she sees the impact of gun violence all the time in her job as a prosecutor.

However, others on the board objected to the resolution.

Board member Virginia “Ginny” Jeup said Everytown for Gun Safety — the organization behind the Wear Orange movement — was “not a bipartisan (organization).”

Everytown for Gun Safety is a grassroots group but does support political candidates who, according to its website, “have demonstrated that they will govern with gun safety.”

“This is a politically charged resolution,” Jeup said. “It brings about no meaningful change.”

Board member Terrence Collins agreed.

“I wouldn’t want a student to feel they’ve done something wrong … if they don’t wear orange on that day,” Collins said.

He said the district could agree to a resolution “every day” for the many important issues facing young people, such as the increase in drug overdoses.

St. John said the Wear Orange campaign has been championed by students in the Pointes.

“I think it’s dangerous, or not in our purview, to suggest to administrators what the right or wrong thing to do is,” said Collins, noting that National Gun Violence Awareness Day is already a recognized state and federal date.

Collins acknowledged that he worked for a gun manufacturer about 10 years ago.

Board member Lisa Papas said she felt it would be “much more meaningful” to do something in the names of the GPPSS students who were lost to gun violence last year, rather than to approve a resolution that names Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old Chicago girl lost to gun violence in 2013. Pendleton’s friends launched the Wear Orange movement in her honor.

“We are living in a time when students are constantly protesting about something. … It’s really losing its meaning,” Papas said. “I don’t think gun violence is something anyone is unaware of.”

She said she “grudgingly” supported this resolution in 2023 but couldn’t do so again this year.

Board President Sean Cotton said “quite a few” parents were uncomfortable with the resolution last year. He said the group behind the Wear Orange campaign is “a very political organization.”

“I’m very much for gun safety,” Cotton said.

St. John said she wasn’t advocating that the school district raise funds for Everytown, and pointed out that the resolution was brought to her by a student.

“Firearms are the leading cause of death among children in Michigan,” St. John said, adding that students are traumatized by school lockdowns and drills. “This is a way for them to be proactive.”

St. John told Papas she would be happy with changing wording in the resolution to include the names of the local students lost to gun violence. Some on the board were concerned that the Anderson and Fraser families might not want their names on the resolution; St. John said she could talk to them first to find out.

“I’m not interested in amending this resolution,” Papas said.

St. John and Worden voted in favor of the Wear Orange resolution but Cotton, Papas, Collins, Jeup and Board Vice President Ahmed Ismail voted against it, so the resolution failed.

St. John said she would rewrite the resolution for the board to consider during its next regular meeting May 28.

Grosse Pointe Park resident Michelle White spoke in support of a National Gun Violence Awareness Day resolution that the Park City Council unanimously approved as part of its consent agenda May 13.

“I am grateful that you recognized the importance of the tragedy that is gun violence. … It’s a public health crisis,” White said.

The Park’s resolution acknowledges the deaths of Fraser and Anderson, as well as the third MSU student to die in the shooting last year, Alexandria Vernier, of Clawson, whose mother worked at North.

White added that she was disappointed the Park council didn’t declare the first Friday in June as Wear Orange Day, however.

Park Mayor Michele Hodges alluded to the political divide over Wear Orange at the meeting.

“It’s always so challenging to figure out where we as a body should land. … Nobody in this community wants gun violence,” Hodges said.