Bells toll around Penn, across the city, for National Gun Violence Awareness Day

On Friday, June 7, bells tolled at 1 p.m. at 44 locations around the region, as part of Penn Live Arts’ ‘Toll the Bell’ community initiative.

People gathered outside appearing solemn and wearing orange.
Gatherers listened to a series of remarks at an interfaith vigil for Toll the Bell outside the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.

With solemnity and solidarity, Penn and Philadelphia community members walked through campus and to the nearby Episcopal Cathedral on June 7, with surrounding bells calling attention to National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The moment was ushered in by the Toll the Bell community initiative, organized by Penn Live Arts in collaboration with more than 65 partners in Greater Philadelphia, including 44 religious and other organizations that tolled their bells or made noise to encourage listeners “to be called back into caring” about gun violence.

As part of the sound installation, Penn Live Arts, Interfaith Philadelphia, and the Religious Leaders Council of Greater Philadelphia hosted an interfaith vigil service at the Annenberg Plaza, just outside of the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts. Together, with many wearing orange apparel in recognition of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, they reflected on the moment ahead of the tolling of the bells at 1 p.m.

“Truly, no city in America is more connected to the imagery, history, and symbolism of the bell than Philadelphia,” said Christopher Gruits, executive and artistic director of Penn Live Arts, in opening remarks. “But Toll the Bell is not a profile in tragedy; it is a sonic disruption as a call to action, a warning, and an invitation to Philadelphians to stop and reflect on our fellow citizens, our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives, and also to learn more about this urgent issue.

“This, my friends, is a powerful tool that can impact our city, uplift our collective spirit, and point toward our neighbors for working toward positive change.”

His remarks were followed by prayers and reflections by members of the Religious Leaders Council, including Bishop Patricia Davenport, of Southeastern Pennsylvania Synod ELCA; Kavneet Singh Pannu, of the American Sikh Council; Rabbi Shawn Zevit, of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association; and Bishop Peter Hwang, of the Council of Korean Churches of Greater Philadelphia.

Davenport recalled sitting with parents who have lost children to gun violence—“I’ve wiped their tears,” she said.

“May we not just grieve, but give,” Davenport said. “May we not just ache, but act.”

Pannu hoped for the gathering to be a “clarion call” against gun violence, acknowledging gun violence’s ripple effects and intergenerational impact.

Hwang then led the group in a call-and-response prayer, highlighting those who’ve had their life taken by gun violence, law enforcement seeking justice, those who have been victim to domestic violence during the pandemic, those whose mental illness has gone untreated, those suffering from loneliness and isolation, and more. He prayed for “comfort [for] our broken hearts.”

Zevit, lastly, reminded the crowd to “ring the bell for our souls, not only for our ears.”

“May we never be lazy about this work of peace, or complacent in our relative safety,” he said.

The gathering ended with remarks from Charles “Chaz” Lattimore Howard, University Chaplain and Vice President for Social Equity & Community. He held up a garden shovel that had been shaped from what was formerly a relinquished gun.

“[It is] something that was meant for taking life, broken, rebuilt, into something used to cultivate life in gardens,” Howard said. “I wanted to bring this as a reminder that things can change, that things don’t have to stay the way they are right now.”

He added: “Today is not just about tolling bells; when the Liberty Bell was rung years ago, it wasn’t just about ringing the bell, it was about a call to action, a call to hope, and that is what we are doing here today: Not just listening, but acting.”

Following the event, Gruits reflected on the afternoon’s events, which is the first known citywide sound installation of its kind.

“Toll the Bell was a moving example of the impact communities can have when they come together to push for change,” says Gruits. “Through sound, we called attention to one of the most pressing issues facing our city while collaborating with over 65 partners across our region to create a day of reflection that amplified the positive work being done in our community. We look forward to building upon this great momentum in the years to come, showcasing the power of the performing arts as a catalyst for positive change.”

Group of people wearing orange and processing out of the Annenberg plaza.
A group of gatherers for Toll the Bell process from the Annenberg Plaza, to the sound of bells tolling.