Michelle Obama: “Hadiya Pendleton Was Me…But I Got To Grow Up”

The First Lady, speaking at a forum on youth violence today, issued a stirring (but not very specific) call to action.

photo: courtesy cbs2 chicago

 

Speaking at a luncheon to raise funds for the prevention of violence among the city’s youth, First Lady Michelle Obama compared her Chicago childhood to the challenges facing the city’s kids today.

Describing kids living in poverty, “just a few El stops from shiny skyscrapers, leafy blocks, and world-class museums,” she said, “all of that might as well be in a different state, or a different continent.” These are kids who have never been to Art Institute, Millennium park, never strolled along Navy Pier, or even seen the lake. They’re consumed by watching their backs. Afraid to walk alone, afraid to walk in groups.

For these kids, Obama said, “A funeral for a teenager considered is unfortunate but not unusual.”

The speech made a natural segue into the funeral for Hadiya Pendleton, which the First Lady attended in February. There, Obama drew a striking comparison: “Hadiya was me,” she said, “and I was her. But I got to grow up.”

“And Hadiya? You know that story.”

The talk concluded with an appeal to local business leaders to contribute the resources to give kids like Pendleton a better opportunity—naming, specifically, computer labs or decent basketball courts. More generally, Obama called for responsible parents, better schools, community support, and safe neighborhoods.

Those things, she said, “Make the difference between being growing up to become a lawyer, a mother, a First Lady—and being shot dead at the age of 15.”

So what really is Obama asking for? And how different is the city now than when she grew up? 

We’ve asked the question of why American cities are so violent. We’ve looked at how the geography of Chicago’s poverty changed in the past few decades. We’ve traced where Chicago’s guns come from. And we’ve investigated why violence breaks some communities apart and draws others together.

None of these investigations really offer an easy answer on how to curb Chicago’s problems with violence. It will be interesting to see what exactly this fund—with a goal of raising $50 million—plans to do to turn things around.

The full speech Michelle Obama delivered today is available here.

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