One Collegiette Designs Jewelry Line to Help Families Affected by Gun Violence

When news of the massacre in Aurora, Colorado surfaced, I like all other Americans, was devastated. They were regular people just like us going to the movies to watch the newest Batman film. And though, as a New Yorker, I was far away from the epicenter of the shooting and knew no one impacted by it, I felt the sorrow of my fellow Americans as if it were my own. So, rather than doing the usual Facebook posting of a news-link, I decided I had to do something more meaningful to help these ailing families. 

A lover of fashion and art, I understand how and what guns have long represented in those realms; guns are and have been a popular symbol of status and power. Although there are countless examples of this throughout art history, we collegiettes can immediately think of Andy Warhol's famous series of pop-art guns. However, most recently I've noticed that gun references have become a reoccurring image in fashion. Our twenty-first century's fetishization of guns can be found in all modes of fashion, from t-shirts to jewelry. For gun jewelry in particular, its proliferation is evident on popular fashion sites such as Barneys, Ron Herman, Polyvore. Gun and pistol necklaces have even been produced by top designers such as, Jennifer Fisher, the winner of New York Magazine’s 2012 Best Jewelry. Unsurprisingly, the trend has also traveled to Hollywood and celebs like Whitney Cummings, and Rihanna have been featured in magazines sporting gun necklaces.

With my mind still fixated on the Aurora shooting and the outpouring of new stories about it, I encountered a moment of cognitive dissonance. I struggled to grapple with the dichotomy of this object as a chic, fashion symbol and the gun as a lethal weapon.

With that in mind, I sketched out, designed and later produced a pendant with the slogan, Wear it Don't Bear It. I rationalized, it’s one thing to wear a gun as a fashion/art symbol and it's entirely different to use it for what it was intended for-as a killing machine; hence the catchy Wear it Don't Bear it motto. My message also functions to say that we should wear and promote the latter statement: Don't Bear It (it being a gun, of course).

On the morning of December 14th, as I was walking back from class, my cell started to go abuzz with text messages. “OMG Toby! Did you hear?” or “Toby, you have to get your charms out! Read what happened!” I had, of course, told a few of my friends about my initiative and they encouraged me to go public with my charms. My friends were right; unfortunately, the charm became instantly relevant. When the dust and confusion in the news had settled, our country was confronted with, yet again, a devastating massacre: the heinous murder of twenty first-graders and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. 

From that dark morning on, I have been very committed to selling the charm. But it is not a business venture; I am simply trying to do whatever I can to help and give back to the families whose lives have changed as the result of a bullet. 100 percent of the profits from the sales will go to an organization called "The Bereaved Parents of the USA," a non-profit that offers support to grief-stricken family members attempting to rebuild their lives after the loss of a family member.

In addition from the support I have received from friends from all over the U.S., there has been a lot of interest in the charms from Norway. Ten charms have already been sold to Norwegians who want to show support for grief-stricken American families and those suffering in Oslo after the shootings that left 77 dead last July. Plus, I have garnered the backing of several political and public figures such as The Chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents, Dr. Merryl H. Tisch, NY State Senator Charles Schumer, NY Assemblywoman, Amy Paulin and NY Congresswoman, Nita Lowey.

Through my social activism meets fashion campaign, I have learned many things. One of which is that, I have a message and a voice that can be heard. As bright, college women, we are undoubtedly, a powerful demographic. If we choose to express our thoughts on social issues, people will listen. 

From one collegiette to another, I urge you to make a statement about the issue(s) that matter most to you. Or please help me make mine by wearing your own "Wear It Don't Bear It" charm, sold here. So go ahead, make a difference today. 

Hi my name is Toby Milstein and I'm a student at Barnard College at Columbia University!

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